The Failures of Compliance, Abatement and Mitigation
New Horizons in Environmental Politics series
Chapter 5: Failure before the end of the pipe: missed opportunities in American paper recycling
“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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