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WASTE: Climate Change, Peak Oil, and the End of Waste

WASTE: Climate Change, Peak Oil, and the End of Waste

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"We in rich contries have almost lost the ability to supply our own needs through local manufacturing and agriculture--or even to extend the life of products through reuse, repair and repurposing. We rely on others, and on a system lubricated by cheap oil, to meet our needs as well as our wants.

In the post-peak-oil period, inevitable interruptions in the flow of the goods we rely on every day will be profoundly destabilizing."
"We in rich contries have almost lost the ability to supply our own needs through local manufacturing and agriculture--or even to extend the life of products through reuse, repair and repurposing. We rely on others, and on a system lubricated by cheap oil, to meet our needs as well as our wants.

In the post-peak-oil period, inevitable interruptions in the flow of the goods we rely on every day will be profoundly destabilizing."

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Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Aug 30, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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The Post Carbon Reader Series: Waste
Climate Change, Peak Oil,and the End of Waste
By Bill Sheehan and Helen Spiegelman
 
About the Author
Bill Sheehan is executive director and co-founder of theProduct Policy Institute. He has worked with local gov-ernments, communities, and nongovernmental organi-zations to bring extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies to a growing number of communities across theUnited States. He was co-founder and executive direc-tor of the GrassRoots Recycling Network from 1995 to2003 and a board member of the National Recycling Coalition in the late 1990s. Sheehan is a Fellow of PostCarbon Institute.Helen Spiegelman is board president and co-founderof the Product Policy Institute. She has worked on waste and EPR issues in British Columbia for over adecade, including as director of communications forthe Recycling Council of British Columbia, and mostrecently with Zero Waste Vancouver.Post Carbon Institute© 2010613 4th Street, Suite 208Santa Rosa, California 95404 USAThis publication is an excerpted chapter from
The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’sSustainability Crises
, Richard Heinberg and DanielLerch, eds. (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2010).For other book excerpts, permission to reprint, and purchasing visithttp://www.postcarbonreader.com.
 
CATE CHAE, PEA O, A THE E O WASTE1 THE POST CARBO REAER SERES
Household waste is often overlooked in discussions of big issues like climate change and peak oil. Even dedi-cated environmentalists sometimes share the prevailing  view that waste
 
“will always be with us.” In fact, wasteas we know it today is not an inevitability but an indica-tor of massive failure in both markets and market regu-lation. Worse, we are poised to compound that failureby building costly energy infrastructure that relies on waste as a substitute for declining fossil fuels.
The ormalization of Waste
It’s important at the outset to recognize a paradoxabout waste. Our culture holds generally negativeattitudes toward wastefulness, yet waste is supported with community services that are more universal, moreaffordable, and more accessible than health care, hous-ing, or education. Consider the ubiquitous street litterbins provided and maintained at public expense. Thesecommunity amenities make wasting easy and conve-nient. Similarly, household garbage containers lined upat the curb every week communicate unabashedly that
wasting is a publicly sanctioned behavior in our society.
How did wasting become socially normalized to thisextent? The answer lies in a well-intentioned effort acentury ago to take public action to protect humanhealth and safety.In the booming industrial cities of the late-nineteenthcentury “heaps of garbage, rubbish and manure clut-tered the streets and alleys,” writes waste historianMartin Melosi.
1
Imagine teeming cities where horses were the main mode of local transportation. Pigs andfowl were kept in basements of the crowded tenementbuildings that housed the growing numbers of the newlaboring class. In such conditions, yellow fever, typhoid,cholera, and other diseases emerged quickly and spreadrapidly, affecting neighborhoods both rich and poor.The only waste collection services were informalarrangements with itinerant entrepreneurs such as rag collectors. As time went by and things got worse, Melosi writes, the traditional notion of individual responsi-bility for refuse disposal gave way to an acceptance of community responsibility. A broad-based civic reformmovement demanded that cities provide “municipalhousekeeping” to keep the streets clean. In this way,
waste management 
became a core function of our localgovernments. The streets and alleys were cleansed and,best of all, citizens had the assurance that their waste was safely in the hands of competent professional engi-neers and public servants.No one could have predicted what would happen overthe next hundred years (figure 28.1). When local gov-ernments assumed responsibility for solid waste a cen-tury ago, household and commercial waste consistedmainly of inorganics, in the form of coal ash and wood
 
Waste is supported withservices more universal,aordable, and accessiblethan health care, housing,or education.

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