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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Evaluating source separation wastewater systems using traditional life cycle assessment and the planetary boundaries approach

Lima, Priscila de Morais; Ferrer, Gertri; Kjerstadius, Hamse; Ryberg, Morten; Mcconville, Jennifer Rae


Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a commonly used method for assessing environmental impacts of systems, but cannot produce absolute values, i.e. a comparison with existing calculated values, which represents limits of what can be emitted into the environment. Therefore, absolute environmental sustainability assessments have been developed to assess impacts against the planetary boundaries (PBs) of the safe operating space for humanity. Since PB-LCAs are novel, it is useful to analyze both results from this method and conventional LCAs, something which has not been done before. This study applied both methods to two full-scale sanitation systems in the city of Helsingborg, Sweden. The current conventional system for handling wastewater with active sludge and food waste to biogas production was compared with the novel project H+ source separation system with three pipes (food waste, grey and black water) with increased resource recovery through anaerobic digestion, ammonia stripping, struvite precipitation and pelletization. The Planetary Boundaries LCA (PB-LCA) results showed that both systems exceeded eight of the assigned shares of PBs, including climate change and biogeochemical flows of nutrients. Traditional LCA (ReCiPe impact assessment) showed net savings for the H+ system in a few categories and considerable reductions in several impacts, e.g., global warming potential (GWP), stratospheric ozone depletion, terrestrial acidification, and water consumption. In PB-LCA the H+ system gave additional impacts in both assessments for a few categories, mostly due to high consumption of chemicals in the ammonium stripping process used for nutrient recovery. In conclusion, the combined assessments highlight hotspots for process optimization in the H+ system. From a methodological standpoint, PB-LCA still needs improvements to better reflect avoided burdens and results from traditional LCA should be fully transparent and analyzed carefully. The assessment methods complement each other and can be combined to better represent environmental performances of systems.


Blackwater; Greywater; Kitchen waste; Decision-making; Environmental burden; Nutrient recovery

Published in

Journal of Cleaner Production
2023, Volume: 422, article number: 138632