Source Reduction and Waste
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:23:50 -0500

[Forwarded from Bruce Nordman]
> Steve Suess said:
> If it is the job of the Waste Board to reduce the amount of
> stuff going to Landfills - Why are they called the "waste board"? It seems
> to me that their job is to eliminate waste, hence they should be the "reduce,
> reuse, recycle board"! This may sound trivial, but it really isn't as the
> name of the organization sets the whole tone of what they do!

> Bill Sheehan sez: Right on! But I would replace the word 'waste' with
> 'discard' and make it clear that they are in charge of both wasting and
> recycling. They are managing discards, some of which are recycled and
some of
> which are wasted. The term waste management is deeply ingrained, but
> redefining it is crucial to developing a sustainable materials economy...

Ok, I can't resist jumping in here. As someone whose primary goal is
to advance the science of source reduction and actually accomplish
a significant amount of it, I think it is absolutely _essential_ to
realize that what we are dealing with is 'waste'. It is the waste
from consumption processes. Denying the fact that the materials are
waste is to try to avoid dealing with consumption -- and this leads
to an inability to do much about source reduction.

Source reduction is largely about changing the ways that we _produce_ waste;
waste production is the same process as goods/materials consumption/use.
Truly 'integrated' waste management means managing both the production
and disposal of solid waste, with recycling being usually a preferable
disposal method than incineration or landfilling.

I know that most recyclers are uncomfortable with the idea that
recyclables are in fact "waste", but I think we have to establish
objective criteria about what constitutes different kinds of materials,
then apply those criteria. Recyclables are generally materials that
have lost the vast majority of their value and are not wanted
by the owner -- I'd call that a waste. Since there is still some
residual value, recycling can be eminently sensible, but that is
rather a separate question from whether a material is waste or not.

To recap, if the goal is recycling, then terminology such as 'discards'
may be useful (I haven't thought about it enough to have an opinion);
however, if we want to do much source reduction, it is essential to
understand that solid waste is in fact 'waste', and take it from there.
Also, I think it is critical for the recycling community to realize
that source reduction has much less to do with recycling than the
recycling community commonly recognizes, and that applying knowledge
that holds for recycling to source reduction can impede, not help,
source reduction, with definitions a prime example.


Bruce Nordman
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory