A majority of previous studies on environmental problems caused by waste generation have focused on waste disposal issues without fully highlighting the primary reasons behind the problems. As a consequence, efforts to reduce these problems are usually directed towards the stakeholders that provide waste treatment and disposal instead of the stakeholders that contribute to waste generation. In order to detect connections between different problems of sustainability and to suggest measures which may contribute to their solutions, this study provides a simplified overview of the mechanisms behind waste generation and management. The results from the study show that the only way to eliminate problems of sustainability is to apply an upstream approach by dealing with the primary problems which occur in the early stages of the system (e.g. overconsumption of products, as well as use of finite resources, toxic materials, and non-recyclable materials). By dealing with these problems, the emergence of secondary problems would be prevented. Thereby, stakeholders who have the highest possibility to contribute to the sustainable development of the waste generation and management are the stakeholders from the origin of the product's life cycles, such as product developers, manufacturing companies, product users and policy makers. Different trade-off situations such as contradictions between economics, recyclability, energy efficiency, make it even harder to deal with issues of sustainability related to the system and to detect the stakeholders who may contribute to the development.One of the main conclusions from this study is that when transforming society towards a circular economy, the traditional view of separate systems for production and waste management must be changed. In order to refer to all problems of sustainability and also cover the top steps of the waste hierarchy, life cycle assessment of waste management should include manufacture and use of products ending up as waste. Waste entering the waste management system with “zero burden”, by releasing the previous actors of the waste life cycle from any responsibility related to the environment (i.e. by shifting the total environmental burden into the waste management system), does not capture the problems with waste generation.
Journal of Cleaner Production – Elsevier
Published: May 1, 2018
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