To what extent is the Circular Footprint Formula of the Product Environmental Footprint Guide consequential?

Schrijvers D L, Loubet P, Weidema B P (2021)

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Journal of Cleaner Production 320:128800 (14 pages)

Abstract

Modeling the use or the supply of recycled materials in a product-oriented Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is challenging and a step in LCA that is typically associated with diverging practices and outcomes. In the ambition to harmonize LCA practices and increase the comparability of studies, the European Commission published the Product Environmental Footprint Guide, with the Circular Footprint Formula to model recycling. The formula considers the market situation of recycled materials, which is consistent with a consequential LCA perspective. Therefore, this paper evaluates the extent to which the Circular Footprint Formula follows a consequential LCA approach. To evaluate this, the considered consequential approach is first systematized in the form of a Causal Loop Diagram that shows the relevant parameters and their relationships. From the diagram, a formula is extracted in the same style of the Circular Footprint Formula, enabling comparison. It is concluded that the Circular Footprint Formula has the potential to, but at the moment does not, provide a full consequential approach. Main discrepancies between the Circular Footprint Formula and consequential LCA are 1) the lack of including the marginal suppliers and marginal users of materials instead of average or specific suppliers and users in the life cycle under study, 2) predetermined limitations of the extent to which substitutions can be modeled, and 3) an incomplete modeling of the effects of recycling when demand is constrained. A few inconsistencies were identified that merit to be corrected in an updated version of the Circular Footprint Formula. It is acknowledged that the Circular Footprint Formula does not claim to be consequential. However, alignment of the method with a clear LCA objective – such as a reduction of environmental impacts – could enable the production of LCA results that better inform decisions of companies, consumers, and policymakers.

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