In the endeavour of avoiding presence of biodegradable waste in landfills and increasing recycling, mechanical–biological treatment (MBT) plants have seen a significant increase in number and capacity in the last two decades. The aim of these plants is separating and stabilizing the quickly biodegradable fraction of the waste as well as recovering recyclables from mixed waste streams. In this study the environmental performance of eight MBT-based waste management scenarios in Spain was assessed by means of life cycle assessment. The focus was on the technical and environmental performance of the MBT plants. These widely differed in type of biological treatment and recovery efficiencies. The results indicated that the performance is strongly connected with energy and materials recovery efficiency. The recommendation for upgrading and/or commissioning of future plants is to optimize materials recovery through increased automation of the selection and to prioritize biogas-electricity production from the organic fraction over direct composting. The optimal strategy for refuse derived fuel (RDF) management depends upon the environmental compartment to be prioritized and the type of marginal electricity source in the system. It was estimated that, overall, up to ca. 180—190 kt CO2-eq. y−1 may be saved by optimizing the MBT plants under assessment.
Journal of Environmental Management, 2013, Vol 128, p. 661-673
MBT; LCA; Waste composition; Biological treatment; Material recovery; RDF