Doctoral Theses: A New Screening Metric to Benchmark the Sustainability of Municipal Solid Waste Management Systems

By Scott M. Kaufman

Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering
Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science
Columbia University


Typically, evaluations of the environmental performance of municipal solid waste (MSW) management systems involve crude measures that are subjective in nature. The most common such measure is the recycling rate – the percentage of MSW that is separated from the waste stream for materials recovery. While useful as a rough estimate of the performance of cities, materials recycling is not the only way to conserve resources. Energy recovery – from waste to energy (WTE) power plants or landfill gas to energy systems – also contributes to improved environmental performance. The principal objective of this thesis was to quantify the environmental performance of municipal waste management systems by introducing and utilizing a new metric, the resource conservation efficiency (RCE). RCE measures the lifecycle energy efficiency of materials and its value depends on the recyclability of the material as well as the method cities choose to dispose of non-recyclable materials.

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