Current studies on the food-energy-water nexus do not capture effects on human health. This study presents a new methodology for assessing the environmental sustainability in the food-energy-water-health nexus on a life cycle basis. The environmental impacts, estimated through life cycle assessment, are used to determine a total impact on the nexus by assigning each life cycle impact to one of the four nexus aspects. These are then normalised, weighted and aggregated to rank the options for each aspect and determine an overall nexus impact. The outputs of the assessment are visualised in a “nexus quadrilateral” to enable structured and transparent interpretation of results. The methodology is illustrated by considering resource recovery from household food waste within the context of a circular economy. The impact on the nexus of four treatment options is quantified: anaerobic digestion, in-vessel composting, incineration and landfilling. Anaerobic digestion is environmentally the most sustainable option with the lowest overall impact on the nexus. Incineration is the second best option but has a greater impact on the health aspect than landfilling. Landfilling has the greatest influence on the water aspect and the second highest overall impact on the nexus. In-vessel composting is the worst option overall, despite being favoured over incineration and landfilling in circular-economy waste hierarchies. This demonstrates that “circular” does not necessarily mean “environmentally sustainable.” The proposed methodology can be used to guide businesses and policy makers in interpreting a wide range of environmental impacts of products, technologies and human activities within the food-energy-water-health nexus.
- A new life cycle methodology is developed for the food-energy-water-health nexus.
- It can be used to determine total impacts on the nexus of in a circular economy.
- It enables consideration of pair-wise interactions between different nexus aspects.
- “Nexus quadrilateral” guides structured and transparent interpretation of results.
- It is illustrated through recovery of resources from household food waste.