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Jaewon Han

Michigan State University, PhD Civil Engineering

EREF Scholar 2023

In the United States, a mere 8.7% of plastic waste was recycled in 2018, while the rest ended up in landfills or was incinerated as plastic production and use continue to rise. By 2050, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic manufacturing could reach a staggering 56 gigatons. Michigan wants to increase its recycling rate from 19.3% to 45% by 2030 with Bottle Deposit Law to encourage people to return plastic waste to designated redemption centers. However, there needs to be more than a single solution to solve the current plastic waste problem. It is necessary to understand the complexity of the current recycling process and how recycling technologies and policy, affect each other in the recycling system. This research combines Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and System Dynamics (SD) modeling to estimate the carbon footprint of the plastic recycling system in Michigan. LCA evaluates the carbon footprint of recycling per ton of plastic waste. On the other hand, SD modeling explores the interactions among key components such as policy, recycling facilities, and the electricity grid mix. The project aims to achieve several objectives: first, quantifying the carbon footprint of different recycling methods for plastics; second, comparing recycling scenarios that vary based on policy, facilities, and methods; and third, calculating the total carbon footprint of these scenarios and comparing them to the current recycling system. The research starts by calculating the carbon footprint for one ton of plastic waste using LCA. Then, a System Dynamics model is created to simulate the plastic recycling system considering variables. Finally, the total carbon footprint from PET and PE recycling is quantified based on LCA results and recycling rate scenarios evaluated through SD modeling.


Jaewon received her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Konkuk University, South Korea in 2019. She continued her academic journey by attaining a master’s degree in Materials Chemistry and Engineering from the same institution in 2020. During her master’s studies, she actively contributed to nationally significant projects, collaborating on developing the Life Cycle Inventory database for the Korean Ministry of Environment and conducting comprehensive life cycle assessment of biomass synthetic resin and Carbon Capture and Utilization technologies. In 2022, she embarked on her Ph.D. journey in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Michigan State University, where she joined the Sustainable Energy Systems research group of Dr. Annick Anctil. Her current research focuses on the environmental life cycle assessment of plastic chemical upcycling of post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET).