• Journal Article

Application of the US decision support tool for materials and waste management


Thornloe, S. A., Weitz, K., & Jambeck, J. (2007). Application of the US decision support tool for materials and waste management. Waste Management, 27(8), 1006-1020. DOI: 10.1016/j.wasman.2007.02.024


The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) launched the Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC) in 2002 to help reduce waste and move towards more sustainable resource consumption. The objective of the RCC is to help communities, industries, and the public think in terms of materials management rather than waste disposal. Reducing cost, finding more efficient and effective strategies to manage municipal waste, and thinking in terms of materials management requires a holistic approach that considers life-cycle environmental tradeoffs. The US EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory has led the development of a municipal solid waste decision support tool (MSW-DST). The computer software can be used to calculate life-cycle environmental tradeoffs and full costs of different waste management or materials recovery programs. The environmental methodology is based on the use of life-cycle assessment and the cost methodology is based on the use of full-cost accounting. Life-cycle inventory (LCI) environmental impacts and costs are calculated from the point of collection, handling, transport, treatment, and disposal. For any materials that are recovered for recycling, offsets are calculated to reflect potential emissions savings from use of virgin materials. The use of the MSW-DST provides a standardized format and consistent basis to compare alternatives. This paper provides an illustration of how the MSW-DST can be used by evaluating ten management strategies for a hypothetical medium-sized community to compare the life-cycle environmental and cost tradeoffs. The LCI results from the MSW-DST are then used as inputs into another US EPA tool, the Tool for the reduction and assessment of chemical and other environmental impacts, to convert the LCI results into impact indicators. The goal of this paper is to demonstrate how the MSW-DST can be used to identify and balance multiple criteria (costs and environmental impacts) when evaluating options for materials and waste management. This type of approach is needed in identifying strategies that lead to reduced waste and more sustainable resource consumption. This helps to meet the goals established in the US EPA’s Resource Conservation Challenge.