Life cycle assessment applied to wastewater treatment: State of the art

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Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a technique to quantify the impacts associated with a product, service or process from cradle-to-grave perspective. Within the field of wastewater treatment (WWT) LCA was first applied in the 1990s. In the pursuit of more environmentally sustainable WWT, it is clear that LCA is a valuable tool to elucidate the broader environmental impacts of design and operation decisions. With growing interest from utilities, practitioners, and researchers in the use of LCA in WWT systems, it is important to make a review of what has been achieved and describe the challenges for the forthcoming years. This work presents a comprehensive review of 45 papers dealing with WWT and LCA. The analysis of the papers showed that within the constraints of the ISO standards, there is variability in the definition of the functional unit and the system boundaries, the selection of the impact assessment methodology and the procedure followed for interpreting the results. The need for stricter adherence to ISO methodological standards to ensure quality and transparency is made clear and emerging challenges for LCA applications in WWT are discussed, including: a paradigm shift from pollutant removal to resource recovery, the adaptation of LCA methodologies to new target compounds, the development of regional factors, the improvement of the data quality and the reduction of uncertainty. Finally, the need for better integration and communication with decision-makers is highlighted ​
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