Waste – Issues in Integration

The USEPA defines integrated waste management as:

“Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) is a comprehensive waste prevention, recycling, composting, and disposal program. An effective ISWM system considers how to prevent, recycle, and manage solid waste in ways that most effectively protect human health and the environment. (pg.1, 2002)”

Integrated solid waste management is not a new concept –references to the term can be found as early as the 1970s (Marshall, 2013), with many countries now embracing the principles of integrated waste management as a means to promote resource stewardship, conservation and minimize potentially harmful wastes. At its core, ISWM is about evaluating local needs and conditions (with consideration being given to social, economic and environmental factors), and then selecting the most appropriate waste management strategy to meet these conditions (USEPA, 2002). Conceptually, it is difficult to find fault with the tenants of ISWM. In practice, ISWM planning is enormously challenging – largely because of the amorphous quality of waste.

The term waste is neither easy to define nor to delimit in scope. As noted by Zizek (2006) and Moore (2012), waste can be seen as a parallax object, possessing a range of qualities, utility values and attitude attachments depending on one’s perspective. Waste is both filthy and valuable, toxic, yet useful – what waste is and how, why and to whom it matters varies greatly (Moore, 2012). Opinions diverge sharply on an appropriate definition of waste, both with respect to legal and operational uses of the term (Smith, 1993). Table 1 below highlights several definitions of waste found within the literature (adapted and expanded from Pongracz et al., 2002):

Table 1: Various definitions on the concept of waste

Author Definition
Baran (1959) Waste is the difference between the level of output of useful goods and services that would be obtained if all productive factors were allocated to their best and highest uses under rational social order, and the level that is actually obtained
Elwood (1993) Waste, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder
EU (1991) Waste shall mean any substance or object in the categories set out in Annex I, which the holder discards or is required to discard
Gutberlet  (2011) Waste is a potential resource
Hollander (1998) Waste  is  something  that  needs  to  be  expelled  in  order  that  the system continues to function
Lox (1994) Waste is either an output with (‘a negative market’) ‘no economic’ value from an industrial system or any substance or object that has ‘been  used  for  its  intended  purpose’  (or  ‘served  its  intended function’) by the consumer and will not be re-used
McKinnie (1986) Waste  is  the  unnecessary  costs  that  result  from  inefficient practices, systems or controls
OECD (1994) Wastes are materials other than radioactive materials intended for Disposal
Pongracz (2002) Waste is an unwanted, but not avoided output, whence its creation was not avoided either because it was not possible, or because one failed to avoid it
Pongracz (2002) Waste is a man-made thing that has no purpose; or is not able to perform with respect to its purpose
Tchobanoglous et al. (1993) Items which have may no immediate use value, but due to their intrinsic properties are often reusable and may be considered a resource in another setting
UNEP (1989) Wastes  are  substances  or  objects,  which  are  disposed  of  or  are intended to be disposed of or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of national law

Table 1 illustrates the non- tractable nature of defining waste, as well as the range of attitudes we as scholars, resource managers and resource users have towards waste. It is these attitudes that shape both our past and present approaches to municipal solid waste management.  Given the dualistic properties of both waste as a resource and waste as an unwanted byproduct of consumption, developing an effective integrated waste management framework is both of critical importance, yet rife with challenges. Affected stakeholders have difficulty finding common ground when it comes to how waste is managed, who should manage it, and who ultimately foots the bill. Creating a system that is sensitive to stakeholder needs and concerns, yet still able to satisfy the environmental and economic objectives of an ISWM system is predicated on effective stakeholder collaboration, supporting legislative and governance frameworks and cooperation across multiple sectors and levels of government. In turn, successfully integrating issues surrounding waste and fully realizing its value as a resource requires an intimate understanding of integrated resource management principles, determinants of environmental and recycling behavior and a thorough knowledge of existing ISWM systems in both developed and developing markets. Understanding what is required to develop a successful ISWM system helped guide the major literature areas reviewed in this thesis.

Recognizing the value of waste as a resource  

While waste as a resource is not a new concept, it is a relatively new environmental management strategy (emerging only within the latter half of the century). Historically, people have recycled, repurposed and reused waste during times of increased scarcity (economic depressions, war time etc.) (Hall, 2002). Although resource scarcity also served as the primary impetus for the modern recycling movement, the level of exploitation and environmental degradation that occurred at the time was on a scale never seen before in human history (Melosi, 1981). Policy makers recognized that any potential solution to these problems would have to involve significant changes to both national and local legislation, focusing on resource reuse and recycling to help curb unsustainable extraction rates (Dunson, 1999) . Waste was no longer just a byproduct of resource use, but a resource in and of itself. This reconceptualization of waste was central in the development of modern ISWM systems, and served as the foundation of the integrated solid waste management paradigm (McDougall et al. 2001).    The United States pioneered legislation involving waste recovery and recycling in the 1970s, with Canada shortly following suit in the early part of the next decade.

Table 2 summarizes relevant waste management and recycling legislation in both Canada and the United States.

Table 2: Relevant waste management legislation

Act Purpose
Solid Waste Disposal Act (1965) Broad attempt to address the solid waste problems confronting the nation through a series of research projects, investigations, experiments, training, demonstrations, surveys, and studies.
Resources Recovery Act (1970) Established a major research program, run by the EPA, to develop new and innovative ways of dealing with solid waste. Gave the EPA the responsibility of providing state and local governments with technical and financial help in planning and developing resource recovery and waste disposal systems.
Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (1976) Designed to “promote the protection of health and the environment and to conserve valuable material and energy resources” (USEPA, 1976). The act shifted the emphasis of the national solid waste management initiative to recycling and energy recovery (Melosi, 1981). Furthermore, the act also made state level waste management plans mandatory, transferring both the responsibility and day to day operations of MSWM systems to state and local authorities (Melosi, 1981).
Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1988) Designed to provide a systematic approach to assess and manage chemical substances in the environment that were not addressed under existing programs. Emphasis on pollution and waste control.
Ontario Environmental Protection Act (1991) The act grants the Ministry of the Environment broad powers to deal with the discharge of environmental contaminants which cause negative effects. The early and later versions of the Act included regulations on waste and litter disposal.
Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999) Extension of CEPA 1988, but with a greater emphasis placed on pollution and waste prevention. Introduced the concept of sustainable development in a Canadian policy context