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Waste Manag. 2010 Nov;30(11):2354-61. doi: 10.1016/j.wasman.2010.05.014. Epub 2010 Jun 22.

Environmental impacts of post-consumer material managements: recycling, biological treatments, incineration.

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National Institute for Cancer Research, Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, Environmental Chemistry, Genoa 16132, Italy.


The environmental impacts of recycling, mechanical biological treatments (MBT) and waste-to-energy incineration, the main management strategies to respond to the increasing production of post-consumer materials are reviewed and compared. Several studies carried out according to life-cycle assessment (LCA) confirm that the lowest environmental impact, on a global scale, is obtained by recycling and by biological treatments (composting and anaerobic fermentations) if compost is used in agriculture. The available air emission factors suggest that, on a local scale, mechanical biological treatments with energy recovery of biogas, may be intrinsically safer than waste-to-energy incinerators. Several studies confirm the capability of biological treatments to degrade many toxic xenobiotic contaminating urban wastes such as dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, an important property to be improved, for safe agricultural use of compost. Further LCA studies to compare the environmental impact of MBTs and of waste-to-energy incinerators are recommended.

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