Re: [GRRN] Local responsibility principle

Helen Spiegelman (
Tue, 26 Jan 1999 09:17:26 -0800

Our market economy functions like a vast network of pot-luck dinners. All
the firms send guests to local pot-luck dinners, bringing their favourite
dish for all to share. At the end of the meal, all the firms push back
their chairs and leave the table -- but who's going to wash the dishes?

If each firm either took its own dishes home, there would be much less
trouble. First, the dishes would sort themselves out into matched sets --
rather than the *yucky* assortment of dishes that get *commingled* in the
municipal solid waste *stream*.

Second, the host/ess of the dinner party could put attention to candles and
centrepieces and soft music rather than scullery work.

At 07:30 AM 1/26/99 +1100, Ian Reeve wrote:
>Bill Sheehan wrote:
>>Maybe things are different in North America than in Australia, but this
>>characterization of waste politics does not make sense to me. The
>>of waste as a health hazard liability led to localization of waste
>>through local government control a century ago. The recognition that
waste is
>>a profitable liability has led to massive centralization of wasting and
>>attempted marginalization of resource conservation in the past decade.
>>I'd like to think that "the pendulum" is swinging in a new direction as the
>>connection between unsustainable resource extraction and wasting is becoming
>>more evident: from waste as liability to waste as resource. This can
lead to
>>centralization (as in industry take-back systems) or to localization (as in
>>discard malls -- or recycling estates as they are called in Canberra).
>>NIMBY is a response to waste facilities, whether centralized or localized,
>>large or small, in one's neighborhood. NIMBYism is usually justified and is
>>one of the primary levers moving the pendulum towards 'waste as resources.'
>Bill, the centralisation - local responsibility axis I was referring to is
>really only applicable to the site of decision-making about waste disposal,
>and particularly long term planning, which I would call waste management
>politics. Of course, many in the sanitary engineering - waste engineering
>profession might prefer that these decisions were made on rational
>scientific principles without the intrusion of messy politics, but one has
>only to examine the deliberations of the legislatures at local, State and
>Federal level to see that waste disposal decisions are political decisions.
>The concentration of market power in the waste collection, transport and
>disposal industries, or the concentration of industry recycling
>responsibility in the Duales System Deutschland, or the addiction of modern
>industrial economies to resource wasting, also involve centralisation of a
>sort. But the processes involved are different to what it is that makes
>politicians decide it might be a good idea to put responsibility for waste
>disposal in the hands of a single government authority, or take that
>responsibility away from such an authority and disperse it among a number
>of local authorities, or to hand it all over to the private sector.
>>From what I have looked at, it seems that these political decisions are
>almost never based on a 'rational' assessment of options, but rather are
>the outcome of the interplay between ideas about waste that go back to the
>Dark Ages, selective scientific assessments, experts' favoured solutions,
>simplistic notions of governance (like carrots and sticks) and, probably
>most importantly, political expedience and self-interest.
>Of course, nimbyism looms large in politicians' assessments of whether
>voters are going to keep them in power or not. As you rightly say, much
>nimbyism is justified, but nimbyism is just one side of a coin, the other
>side being the acceptance of collective responsbility for the disposal of
>waste. Social animals that we are, and given the practicalities of
>achieving political consensus, collective responsibility is easier to
>obtain amongst a small group of people who feel some sense of community
>than among three million inhabitants of a large city. To a certain extent,
>this is what drives the pendulum I referred to. On the one hand
>centralisation of government responsibility for waste has the appeal of
>economies of scale, rationalist long term planning, coordination of effort
>and uniform standards. But on the other, if centralisation also means
>establishing new centralised landfills, then its political appeal
>evaporates. Local responsibility becomes an attractive principle.
>Much of this would change and the pendulum would take a new direction if
>waste was viewed as a resource, as you rightly point out. But as a fan of
>Mary Douglas's "Purity and Danger", I prefer to think that people will
>always find something to identify as "waste", something ambiguous in its
>properties, something yucky, something that won't stay where it is put but
>returns to threaten you. I think there is a reasonable amount of evidence
>to suggest that the plastic bag and the emissions from burning it has
>become the miasma of the late 20th century and the industrial wastes in
>landfills (the media's toxic time bombs) are like the 'filth and
>corruption' that was the focus of late 19th century sanitary zeal. From
>Douglas's ethnographic point of view, little has changed in the individual
>understandings of waste that structure collective behaviour. So, yes,
>waste is and should be seen as a resource, but I suspect it will be a long
>time before people see a landfill in their backyard as no more of a
>nuisance than a quarry.
>Ian Reeve
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Helen Spiegelman
3570 West 22nd Avenue
Vancouver, British Columbia

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