Materials Consumption and Solid Waste

AuthorMichael Burger
Page 183
I. Introduction
e modern industrial economy can appropriately be
thought of as linear in nature. Natural resources are
extracted from the hinterlands i n the form of, for instance,
timber, minerals, or wildlife; transported from the periph-
ery towards urban centers; converted into products through
craft or manufact ure; used by businesses or individual con-
sumers; and then thrown away. is linear economy has
succeeded in many respects. It ha s produced extraordinar y
economic development, and it has increased quality of life
and human well-being in many places around the world.
It has also frequently, and repeatedly, run into natural lim-
its. ere is only so much in the way of untapped natural
resources. And there is only so much space in which to d is-
pose of our waste. Moreover, the linear industrial economy
has produced many forms of environmental pollution; at
one point or another, citizens in the United States and
elsewhere have concluded that streets, oceans, rivers, the
soil itself, and the atmosphere are either entirely inappro-
priate disposal sites for solid waste or else require systems
and standards to manage the associated risk s and preserve
certain amenities, such as non-contaminated beaches and
open space. In addition, at every step of the process, from
extraction through disposal, greenhouse gases (GHGs) are
emitted. When a product winds up in a land ll or inciner-
ated at a commercial facility, the GHG emissions that went
into it—its embedded emissions—like the product itself,
become waste. In some instances, a s with food waste left to
decompose or incineration of solid waste, the product itself
converts into GHGs.
e limits confronting the linear economy, and the
pollution problems it produces, will only become more
intense in the coming years, as t he earth’s population
reaches an estimated 9.7 billion people by mid-century,1
including three billion new middle-cla ss consumers,2 and
the U.S. population increases by almost a third, to reach
417 million people by 2060.3 Human societies are rapidly
depleting natural resources and degrading and dest roying
ecosystems, even as we are running out of land for waste
1. U.N. D  E  S A, W P
P: 2015 R, K F  A T 2 (2015)
2. Richard Dobbs et al., Mobilizing for a Resource Revolution, MK Q.,
Jan. 2012,
3. U.S. C B, U.S. P P 2014-2060 (2014).
Chapter 7
Materials Consumption and Solid Waste
by Michael Burger
e circular economy represents a powerful new paradigm for materials consumption and solid waste manage-
ment. Instead of beginning with extraction and ending with waste, the circular economy begins with material
already in use, or else material designed for iterative uses, moves through production and consumption, and into
waste management, which secures a revived or altered source material, which in turn moves though production
and consumption, and so on, over and over again. Achieving signicant greenhouse gas reductions in this area
requires widespread shifts in production and consumption toward what can be expressed succinctly in a familiar
refrain: “reduce, reuse, recycle.” ere are a number of legal pathways to achieving emissions reductions through
materials consumption and solid waste management. Corporate governance as well as research and development of
new materials can play a signicant role, and signicant advances can be made through regulatory interventions.
Author’s Note: e author would like to acknowledge Michael
Gerrard and John Dernbach for their editorial guidance, and
Trevor Gopnik for his outstanding research assistance.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT