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How can end-of-life emissions be negative?
How can end-of-life emissions be negative?

This is caused by the benefits of electricity production when waste is incinerated.

Tess Heeremans avatar
Written by Tess Heeremans
Updated over a week ago

When materials end up being burned in waste facilities (incineration) in Western Europe, the heat that is created from this process will most of the time be used to generate electricity. This means less demand for coal and/or gas to generate electricity.

For example; the emissions of burning coal and/or gas are higher than the burning of cellulose materials like paper, it will result in a reduction of emissions, which is reflected by a negative score. In the case of fossil-based plastics the emissions of burning the packaging is more than the emissions of burning coal and/or gas and therefore it will be a contribution to the total footprint.

The benefit of electricity production at the End-of-Life is technically referred to as the credit/debit of the system expansion. This system expansion is in line ISO 14044 section

If burning as end-of-life scenario leads to credit depends on many factors, such as the heat generating capacity of the material, the energy-electricity mix of the country where the product finds its end-of-life, the efficiency of the power plant, the type of embedded carbon (biogenic, i.e. “short term cycle” or fossil-based, i.e. “long term cyle”), and many other factors.

In our calculations, we use the footprint of the average energy mix in Europe, since it is often unknown where the final product is incinerated or where the generated electricity is used.

The data that are used for the calculations are available via the IDEMAT tables.

More information about end-of-life scenarios and credit systems can be found here: EoL and recycling - Sustainability Impact Metrics

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