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To recycle, or not to recycle, that is the question: Insights from life-cycle analysis

  • Linda Gaines (a1)
Abstract

Everyone has heard the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”—but does observing this hierarchy really minimize negative impacts? With respect to reduction, it seems clear that using less of something decreases the impact. Similarly, reuse of a material or product should decrease the impact of each use, as long as the resources needed to restore the item to usable condition each time are not too large. For recycling, the picture varies by material and often involves tradeoffs among impacts. Life-cycle analysis aims to comprehensively compare all of the impacts of various disposition options. This article summarizes the pros and cons of recycling materials used in paper, drink containers, and the complex batteries for electric vehicles from the perspective of life-cycle analysis.

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References
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1.Gaines, L., in Encyclopedia of Energy (Elsevier, New York, 2004), pp. 253260.
2.Gaines, L., Stodolsky, F., Mandated Recycling Rates: Impacts on Energy Consumption and MSW Volume (Report ANL/ESD-25, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL, December 1993).
3.Butner, R.E., Kangas, M., Stapley, C.E., Paper Recycling: Impact on Electricity Use, Electro-technology Opportunities (Report RP-3228-06, H.A. Simons, Decatur, GA, April 1993).
4.Life Cycle Inventory of Three Single-Serving Soft Drink Containers (Franklin Associates, Prairie Village, KS, August 2009).
5.Gaines, L.L., Mintz, M., Energy Implications of Glass-Container Recycling (Report ANL/ESD-18, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL, May 1993).
6.America’s Experience with Refillable Beverage Containers (Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC, 2002).
7.Burnham, A., Wang, M., Wu, Y., Development and Applications of GREET 2.7—The Transportation Vehicle-Cycle Model (Report ANL/ESD/06–5, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL, November 2006).
8.Gaines, L., Sullivan, J.L., Burnham, A., Belharouak, I., “Life-Cycle Analysis for Lithium-Ion Battery Production and Recycling,” paper presented at the Transportation Research Board 90th Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, 23–27 January 2011; paper 11–3891.
9.Witkin, J., A Second Life for the Electric Car Battery (Wheels Blog, New York Times, 27 April 2011); green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/a-second-life-for-the-electric-car-battery (accessed 26 May 2011).
10.Gaines, L., “How Can We Supply Personal Transportation with Minimal Impacts?,” seminar presented at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, 16 February 2011.
11.“From Trash to Treasure: Turning Plastic Bags into Battery Anodes,” in TransForum (Transportation Technology R&D Center, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL, 2010), Vol. 10, No. 2, p. 2.
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MRS Bulletin
  • ISSN: 0883-7694
  • EISSN: 1938-1425
  • URL: /core/journals/mrs-bulletin
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