Waste Management and Recycling

Modern economies are producing ever-increasing volumes of wastes, which, without appropriate management, poses a serious risk to ecosystems and human health.

Jan 30th, 2024

Historically, wastes were predominantly dealt with through low-cost disposal in a landfill or incineration. However, the increasing complexity and volume of waste, combined with growing societal pressures on environmental protection, has seen a diversification in the range of waste management technologies and strategies being utilised. It is also becoming more common for product designers to consider the end of life phase during product development. Having access to good quality environmental data on waste management is essential to support better decision making across society.

Sector Overview 

The waste management sector in the ecoinvent database comprises of more than 2500 datasets, covering the management of wastes and wastewaters from a wide variety of sectors producing them. The sector can be subdivided into solid waste management (SWM) and wastewater treatment (WWT). SWM covers treatment, recycling, and disposal (landfilling) activities, while WWT covers the treatment of wastewater. The geographies covered for both SWM and WWT include more than 50 countries across the globe. 

The waste management sector frequently overlaps with other sectors. For instance, where waste materials are recovered for recycling, they are reintroduced into industrial systems for reprocessing (e.g., recycling of steel scrap takes place in an electric arc furnace, which is a metallurgical activity). Similarly, where electrical and thermal energy is generated from waste management activities (e.g., incineration), it feeds into the electricity and heat sectors. Similarly, sludge from WWT can be introduced to anaerobic digestion, incineration, landfill, landfarming, etc. 

However, it is worth mentioning here, that the term “treatment activity”, as considered in the ecoinvent database, refers to any activity that has a reference product with a negative sign. This effectively means that the activity supplies the service of treating, recycling, or disposing the reference product. So, in the ecoinvent database all treatment-, recycling-, and disposal activities are “treatment activities”. 

In the ecoinvent database, by-products and wastes are classified within attributional system models, exclusively by their need for treatment. As such, they are classified as ordinary by-products, wastes, recyclables (cut-off), and materials for treatment (mft) and non-materials for treatment (non-mft) (APOS). By-products and wastes, apart from ordinary by-products and non-mft’s, can potentially enter a “treatment activity”, so within this text we refer to them as “wastes”. 

Sector Highlights 

Solid Waste Management

SWM in the ecoinvent database is covered with data for various wastes, such as municipal solid wastes, waste papers, waste plastics, waste glass among others. 

All “treatment activities” follow the same core modelling principle; they model direct emissions to the environment based on the composition of the waste, as well as specific emission factors that vary between treatment and geographies. Further, they include material (chemicals), energy inputs, infrastructure, and model relevant by-products (electricity, heat, secondary metal products). 

Treatments available are divided into: mechanical (sorting, dismantling, shredding, etc); thermal (municipal solid waste incineration, hazardous waste incineration); disposal (landfilling, underground deposit, open burning and open dumping and disposal of tailings on land) and biological (composting, anaerobic digestion). 

Regarding recycling datasets, they refer to the production of secondary materials such as metals, glass and plastics. Recycling is usually following products and by-products from treatment activities. They include materials to be processed, materials necessary for the process (chemicals), energy inputs, infrastructure and model relevant by-products that can be used into further production processes. 

Finally, the SWM sector includes country specific consumption mixes for more than 12 wastes for the countries of Europe, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, India and South Africa. Those mixes offer the possibility to users to model country specific burdens that arise from waste management. The mixes include different treatment processes based on the regional availability of them. 

Wastewater Treatment

The WWT sub-sector in the ecoinvent database includes data for more than 30 different wastewater treatments. There are certain wastewaters that are treated in WWT facilities with various capacity and there are also different wastewaters from various industrial processes like wastewater from concrete production, wastewater from glass production, wastewater from anaerobic digestion of whey, wastewater from maize starch production.

All wastewater treatment activities model direct emissions to the environment based on the composition of the wastewater. The datasets include material (chemicals) and energy inputs infrastructure, and model relevant by-products (wastewater sludge). 

Waste Tools

All the tools used to model datasets that are part of the waste sector are open access and freely available to everyone. People can use them and create regional specific treatments in addition to creating specific wastes that are not present in the sector. The tools deliver either spold files or xls files.

Data Providers 

Notable providers of LCI datasets on waste management activities include, but are not limited to 


  • Anders Damgaard (Co-Editor), Senior Researcher, Department of Environmental and Resource Engineering, DTU Sustain, Denmark 
  • Ivan Muñoz Ortiz (Co-Editor), 2.-0 LCA Consultants, Spain 
  • Patricio Rodriguez (Co-Editor, mining wastes) 
  • Gabor Doka (Main Editor), Doka LCA, Switzerland

Relevant Sources 

While the database contains all needed information to understand the modelling and calculations behind its contents, the reports below provide further information for enhanced understanding of the activities within the sector. 

Doka G., (2018). Inventory parameters for regionalised mixes of municipal waste disposal in ecoinvent v3.5. December 2018. Doka Life Cycle Assessments, Zurich, Switzerland. 

Doka G., (2017). LCI calculation tools for regionalised waste treatment – General introduction. Doka Life Cycle Assessments, Zurich, Switzerland. 

Doka G., (2017). A model for waste-specific and climate-specific life cycle inventories of open dumps and unsanitary landfilling of waste. Doka Life Cycle Assessments, Zurich, Switzerland. 

Doka G., (2017). A model for waste-specific life cycle inventories of open burning of waste. Doka Life Cycle Assessments, Zurich, Switzerland. 

Doka G., (2017). A model for waste-specific and climate-specific life cycle inventories of tailings impoundments. Doka Life Cycle Assessments, Zurich, Switzerland. 

Doka G., (2015). Life cycle inventories of municipal waste incineration with residual landfill & FLUWA filter ash treatment. Doka Life Cycle Assessments, Zurich, Switzerland. Commissioned by BAFU Bundesamt für Umwelt, Berne. 

Doka G., (2013). Updates to Life Cycle Inventories of Waste Treatment Services – part II: waste incineration. Doka Life Cycle Assessments, Zurich, 2013. 

Doka, G., & Hischier, R., (2005). Waste treatment and assessment of long-term emissions. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 10(1), 77–84. 

Doka G., (2003). Life Cycle Inventories of Waste Treatment Services. ecoinvent report No. 13. Swiss Centre for Life Cycle Inventories, Dübendorf, 2003. 

Use Cases

Data on waste management can be used in life cycle assessment, carbon footprint (greenhouse gas accounting) and material flow analysis studies and can support Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for various products and services.