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  • lable at ScienceDirect

    Journal of Cleaner Production 18 (2010) 1639e1651

    Contents lists avai

    Journal of Cleaner Production

    journal homepage: www.elsevier .com/locate/ jc lepro

    Sustainable waste management systems

    Jeffrey K. Seadon a,b,* a School of Environment, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand b Scion, Sustainable Design Group, PO Box 10345, Wellington 6143, New Zealand

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history: Received 30 September 2007 Received in revised form 6 July 2010 Accepted 10 July 2010 Available online 17 July 2010

    Keywords: Sustainability Waste management Systems approach Leverage

    * Scion, Sustainable Design Group, P.O. Box 10 Zealand. Tel: þ64 27 444 5680.

    E-mail address:

    0959-6526/$ e see front matter � 2010 Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2010.07.009

    a b s t r a c t

    Waste management is viewed as part of a generation, collection and disposal system. A systems approach that reveals its relationship to other parts of the system is examined in the light of producing more sustainable practice.

    The move to a more sustainable society requires greater sophistication to manage waste. A traditional reductionist approach is unsustainable as it lacks flexibility and long term thinking.

    A sustainable waste management system incorporates feedback loops, is focused on processes, embodies adaptability and diverts wastes from disposal.

    Transitioning to a sustainable waste management system requires identification and application of leverage points which effect change.

    � 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    1. Introduction

    Waste is a result of inadequate thinking. The traditional approaches to waste management of “flame, flush or fling” are outmoded customs which have resulted in an unsustainable society. In the USA the total annual wastes exceed 115 billion tonnes, of which 80% is wastewater (Hawken et al., 1999). Of that amount less than 2% is recycled. Emitting waste into the environ- ment resulted in nearly 40% of all USA waters being too polluted to support their designated functions (Council on Environmental Quality, 1996) and more than 45% of the USA population live in areas where air quality was unhealthy at times because of high levels of air pollutants (USEPA, 2002).

    Conventionally, waste is treated as irrelevant to production, only to be managed when the pressure to handle the problem is greater than the convenience of disposal. The catalyst to manage the problem eventuates when the waste disposal impacts (polluted air, water or full landfills) affect people.

    Traditional practices for dealing with waste management fall short in a number of ways:

    a. Effort is spent collecting and analysing immaterial data. For example, conducting annual surveys of household waste compositionwhenwastemanagement practices do not change.

    345, 6143 Wellington, New

    All rights reserved.

    b. Interventions may be irreversible, rather than providing for mechanisms to deal with emerging correctable side effects. For example, when Auckland City (New Zealand) increased waste collection containers from 40 L to 240 L they did not anticipate the resultant increase inwaste quantities and did not plan for it (Seadon and Boyle, 1999).

    c. Solutions are based around short-term goals rather than longer term sustainability thinking. For example, reporting container recycling quantities while ignoring packaging reduction (e.g. the New Zealand Packaging Accord (PackNZ, 2004)).

    d. Time lags between intervention and effects are under- estimated, thus misinterpreting the perceived lack of response as a need to invoke stronger interventions resulting in over- correction that then needs to be fixed. For example, the New ZealandWaste Strategywas reviewed for progress in 2004 (one year after it was instituted) and again in 2006 (MfE, 2009).

    e. Disregard or undervaluing the side effects of intervention. An example is the Auckland City waste collection containers mentioned above (Seadon and Boyle, 1999).

    f. The focus on fixing individual problems rather than the viability of theWasteManagement System (WMS). An example of this is the litter problem in New Zealand caused by the proliferation of one-way packaging in the 1990s. This was corrected by instituting a Packaging Accord that focused on recycling used beverage containers (PackNZ, 2004).

    g. Reliance on linear extrapolations of recent short-term events. This is exemplified by a comparison of the trends in waste disposal in New Zealand. The Review of Progress (MfE, 2007a)

  • Table 2 Comparison of reductionist and systems approaches. Adapted from Tapp and Mamula-Stojnic (2001), Capra (1996).

    Reductionist Systems

    Analytical Objects Parts Context independent Practitioner independent Hierarchies Structure

    Synthesis Relationship Holistic Context dependent Practitioner dependent Networks Process

    J.K. Seadon / Journal of Cleaner Production 18 (2010) 1639e16511640

    considered five years of waste data (from the adoption of the New Zealand Waste Strategy) and found a 4.2% increase in waste quantities disposed to landfill, while the Environment New Zealand 2007 report on decadal progress found almost no change in waste quantities (MfE, 2007b). A linear interpolation over 25 years showed an annual increase averaging 35,000 tonnes.

    Vester (2007) found that these shortfalls are common when dealing with complex systems.

    2. A methodical approach to waste management

    In trying to adopt a methodical approach to deal with waste management a spectrum emerges. This is depicted in Table 1 with increasing complexity from disciplinary to trans-disciplinary approaches.

    The disciplinarity and multidisciplinarity approaches use a scientific/engineering model based on the two concepts of reductionism and cause-and-effect thinking (Ackoff, 1973). The major difference between them is the number of waste streams considered at one time.

    A central tenet of the reductionist image has a hierarchy in which breaks everything into smaller and smaller parts. An example of this is the New Zealand Solid Waste Analysis Protocol which separates waste into 12 primary classifications and 44 secondary classifications and considers domestic and business waste streams separately (MfE, 2002). By gaining an understanding of each of these parts and then combining them, the observer assumes they can explain and understand the behaviour of the system as a whole and this will achieve the ‘best’ (highest economic) solution (Daellenbach, 2001). Previously, this has not proven to be the best solution from an environmental perspective (Stone, 2002).

    The second basic tenet of the reductionist scientific model is assuming cause-and-effect relationships that rely on splitting everything into parts and looking for relationships between those parts. It is assumed that unmeasured variables are unimportant. This may also be inadequate, because new relationships and new (emergent) properties appear, some of which are planned, but others that may be unexpected. The relationship can be more complicated since the causal relationshipmay be two-way and thus there could be mutual causality (Daellenbach, 2001). Alternately, there may be no direct relationship and the linkage is predomi- nantly through a mutual covariant. Observation and interpretation are required to determinewhich of the above scenarios are present.

    While the scientific model is presented as a methodical progression of concepts and experiments, an historical exploration provides a different viewpoint. Kuhn (1996) likened scientific progression to political processes and personality cults in that it was more important whowas promulgating the postulate and how they went about it, rather than the ‘facts’ behind it. He observed that science tended to move forward in a series of steps (which he labelled revolutions in keeping with the political context) that caused paradigm shifts, not by a blinding revelation on the part of scientists but more, as Planck (1950) described it, “because its

    Table 1 Waste management approaches. Adapted from Max-Neef (2005).

    Disciplinarity Multidisciplinarity Pluridiscip

    Reductionist. Splitting into separate waste streams for management

    Reductionist. Consider different waste streams without links

    Cooperatio coordinatio waste strea manageme

    opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”. Kuhn concluded that this does not invalidate science, but that there is a need to accept a new perspective on what constitutes a scientific process.

    A second picture, linked to the trans-disciplinary end of the spectrum, is represented by a systems approach which has holism as a central tenet. In this approach an attempt is made to view the whole WMS under study, not only by looking at the interaction of the parts, but also by looking at the dynamic processes and the emergence of properties at different levels (Tippett, 2005). A comparison of the systems and reductionist approaches is provided in Table 2.

    2.1. The systems approach

    The systems approach developed out of an attempt to unify science. von Bertalanffy (1955) formulated a General System Theory (GST), which had interdisciplinarity as its essence. Von Bertalanffy hoped to be able to generalise the principles of living syste