Using life cycle assessment to analyse landfills’ waste

Francesco Mettifogo, Environmental Engineering visiting student at the UNESCO Chair ESCI-UPF, has presented his Master’s thesis on the impacts of emissions from landfills.

The results of his thesis show that climate change is the most significant impact in all analysed scenarios, and the use of gas emissions to produce electricity can decrease this worldwide problem.

A landfill, the central issue of the study. Source: Pexels.

A landfill, the central issue of the study. Source: Pixabay.

The master’s student in the Environmental Engineering programme at the University of Padova (Italy), Francesco Mettifogo, has presented his Master’s thesis entitled “Development of a Life Cycle Inventory model to evaluate the environmental load of different landfill configurations in Spain,” performed at the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF during a four months' stay in Barcelona with supervisor Dr. Alba Bala. The goal of the Master's thesis is to create a landfill model in order to be flexible and applicable to different scenario, based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology. His project has obtained the highest qualification by the thesis committee.

“The application of the life cycle thinking approach to analyse a landfill and its relative stages is considered a good way to understand the environmental burdens and to increase the awareness about the implications involved,” says Mettifogo. The results of the study shows that climate change is the highest impact in all groups of scenarios, but it exists the possibility to reduce this problem by producing electricity from the landfill gas emissions.

 

Life-cycle Inventory of municipal solid waste landfills

The Master’s thesis consists of creating a Life Cycle Inventory model of a landfill to analyse the environmental impacts of municipal solid waste produced and its consequences using the GaBi software, “in order to be flexible and applicable to different scenarios,” explains Mettifogo. “One of phases of the project that I have enjoyed the most is the modelling of the landfill in the GaBi software because it has been challenging to create something from scratch to be useful in a future project,” stresses the master’s student.

The principal goal of the project is to improve the FENIX Model, a tool developed under the “FENIX Project - Giving Packaging a New Life” at the Chair (2010-2013), “aimed at helping local and regional waste managers to look for eco-efficient and environmentally friendly solutions for managing the packaging waste,” points out the master’s student. With the aim of contributing to FENIX Project, the model developed by Mettifogo is based on the Life Cycle Inventory model for the landfill sub-system (a calculation tool in Excel) developed by the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela (USC), partner of the FENIX Project.“In comparison to the original model, the one I have developed is suitable to be used in other contexts by changing the values of the parameters, and also provides the possibility of making updates. Thus, the FENIX model stays update.”

After developing the landfill model, Mettifogo has created a life cycle inventory for 19 waste flows,  and a detailed impact assessment of the environmental impacts of the  landfill model, considering the Spanish average climate and waste composition; under the guidance of Dr. Alba Bala, leader of the Waste Management Research Line at the Chair. The results of the Master’s thesis shows that climate change is the category with relative highest impacts in all the scenarios compared. “The scenario in which the impacts related to climate change are minor is that in which the landfill gas is collected and used to produce electricity. The alternatives are to provide a flaring system (collect and burn the landfill gas) or a methane oxidative layer to reduce the quantity of methane,” emphasises Mettifogo.

 

Raising awareness on waste management

“Landfills play a central role in the waste management because if those are well designed and well implemented in the integrated waste management system, they can act as geological depository, re-introducing the elements in the natural cycle of the Earth,” highlights Mettifogo. The master’s student thinks that we all have the duty to contribute to this reduction and also that “the governments have to increase citizens’ awareness to induce sustainable consumption behavior.”

After his four months' stay at the Chair, Mettifogo confesses that “I have had the opportunity to grow professionally and met relevant people in the Environmental sector,” making a special remark on Dr. Alba Gala, his supervisor at the Chair. In the near future, he aspires to work in a project “in which I could apply the knowledge of life cycle assessment and waste management that I have learnt at the university and during my stay at the Chair.”

Francesco Mettifogo after defending his Master’s thesis in Padova, Italy.

Francesco Mettifogo after defending his Master’s thesis in Padova, Italy.
 

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