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A life cycle assessment of recycled polypropylene fibre in concrete footpaths

Yin, Shi, Tuladhar, Rabin, Sheehan, Madoc, Combe, Mark, Collister, Tony
Journal of cleaner production 2016 v.112 pp. 2231-2242
carbon dioxide, concrete, emissions, environmental impact, life cycle assessment, man-made trails, manufacturing, oils, polypropylenes, recycling, steel, washing, wastes
This study assesses the environmental impact of four alternatives for reinforcing 100 m² of concrete footpath (Functional Unit, FU) by using cradle to gate life cycle assessment (LCA), based on the Australian context. Specifically, the four options considered are a) producing steel reinforcing mesh (SRM), b) producing virgin polypropylene (PP) fibre, c) recycling industrial PP waste and d) recycling domestic PP waste. The FU yields 364 kg of SRM (in a) and 40 kg of PP fibres (in b, c and d), necessary to achieve the same degree of reinforcing in concrete. All the activities required to produce these materials are considered in the study, namely manufacturing and transportation, and also recycling and reprocessing in the case of industrial and domestic recycled PP waste fibres. These processes are individually analysed and quantified in terms of material consumption, water use, and emissions into the environment. This allows for the impacts from producing recycled fibres to be compared with those from producing virgin PP fibre and SRM, which are traditionally used. The LCA results show that industrial recycled PP fibre offers important environmental benefits over virgin PP fibre. Specifically, the industrial recycled PP fibre can save 50% of CO2 equivalent, 65% of PO4 equivalent, 29% of water and 78% of oil equivalent, compared to the virgin PP fibre. When compared to the SRM, the industrial recycled PP fibre can save 93% of CO2 equivalent, 97% of PO4 equivalent, 99% of water and 91% of oil equivalent. The domestic recycled PP fibre also generates reduced environmental impacts compared to virgin PP fibre, except for higher consumption of water associated with the washing processes.