American Environmental Policy

American Environmental Policy

The Failures of Compliance, Abatement and Mitigation

New Horizons in Environmental Politics series

Daniel Press

More than 40 years after the United States launched bold efforts to curb pollution and waste, American environmental management has stalled. Drawing extensively on recent enviornmental science, engineering, regulatory agency data and trade information, American Environmental Policy explores how environmental management in the US has fallen short of its early promise and reputation. Arguing that policies need to be redesigned for the 21st century, this book offers examples and principles of effective environmental policy reforms. It concludes with suggestions for how new policies should be designed, as well as examples of successfull regulatory innovations already in practice around the world.

Chapter 5: Failure before the end of the pipe: missed opportunities in American paper recycling

Daniel Press

Subjects: environment, environmental politics and policy, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” Millions of Americans encounter this slogan daily. It exhorts us to minimize environmental damage long before goods become wastes – that is, before there is a pipe releasing pollution that must be abated, mitigated or neutralized. Given the economic importance of engineered materials like cement, steel, plastics, glass and paper, the copious resources needed to manufacture these from virgin raw materials and the negative impacts associated with their life cycles, reduction and reuse certainly ought to serve as guiding principles in industry and commerce as well as domestic life. But how well does American environmental policy reflect our environmental sloganeering? If “reduce, reuse, recycle” were more than a catchy phrase, public and private forces might avidly pursue multiple aspects of what Julian Allwood and his colleagues refer to as “materials efficiency.” These would include inducements or requirements for industries to 1) make longer-lasting products (instead of planning for obsolescence), 2) modularize and remanufacture goods (emulating Germany’s Green Dot programs for packaging materials), 3) re-use components (a practice that includes various forms of recycling) and 4) design products that require less material (Allwood et al., 2011).

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