Decoupling Economic Growth from Waste Production
The development of this chapter has been undertaken by Peter Stasinopoulos, Michael Smith and Karlson Hargroves.
Since 1980, annual global resource extraction (by mass) has increased by 36 per cent and is expected to grow to 80 billion tonnes in 2020.1 Alongside such growth in material flows, most cities of the world are seeing significant increases in municipal waste production. For instance, in China’s urban areas, municipal waste production is projected to increase by more than three times between 2000 and 2030.2 Much of this waste is widely regarded by the community as undesirable as it has the potential to create a range of health and environmental pollution problems, as identified in Our Common Future: ‘Another poorly used resource is solid wastes, the disposal of which has become a major problem in many cities, with much of it dumped and uncollected. Promoting the reclamation, reuse, or recycling of materials can reduce the problem of solid waste, stimulate employment, and result in savings of raw materials.’3 The reality is that land-filling municipal waste uses space which is becoming increasingly scarce and valuable in and around cities, particularly in rapidly growing economies like India and China. Most importantly from an economic point of view, land-filling assumes that the cost of disposal is small and the value gained from recycling the waste negligible, which is often no longer the case considering the value of recycled materials such as plastics, glass, rubber, metals and organic compost.