UBC Graduate Research

Streamlined LCA of paper towel end of life options for UBC SEEDS : recycling vs. composting Brennek, Helen; Gardner, Landon; Song, Sizhe


This study was performed for the University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society (AMS) as part of the Sustainable Ecological Economic Development (SEEDs) program. Although paper towel is proven to be an environmentally damaging method for drying hands, relative to other methods such as hand dryers, many buildings on the UBC campus must still provide paper towel for technical or sanitary reasons (Gregory, 2011). In particular, the AMS is concerned with how to minimize the environmental footprint of paper towels used in the Student Union Building (SUB). This streamlined LCA provides a comparison between end-of-life options for paper towel used in SUB bathrooms, in particular for recycling and composting. The study used a closed loop process for recycling, and an open process with avoided burdens for composting. Overall it was determined that when considering impact categories of solid waste, electricity use, water depletion, fossil fuel depletion, climate change, and human toxicity, composting is the better option for all categories except for electricity consumption. Avoided burdens calculated to not change this result. For example, the Climate. Change impact for Recycling was 1,039 kg CO₂ eq while for composting it was 734 kg CO₂ eq (874 kg CO₂ eq without avoided burdens). Additionally, a basic life cycle cost analysis was completed, and composting costs to the university are less than those for recycling. Annual costs for composting were estimated at $5,070, while those for recycling were $16,120. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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