11 Sustainable Dev. L. & Pol'y 28 (2010-2011)
Resource Recovery and Materials Flow in the City: Zero Waste and Sustainable Consumption as Paradigms in Urban Development

handle is hein.journals/sdlp11 and id is 29 raw text is: RESOURCE RECOVERY AND MATERIALS FLOW IN
by Dr. Steffen Lehmann*

Waste was once seen as a burden on our industries and
communities; however, shifting attitudes and better
understanding of global warming and the depletion
of resources have led to the identification of waste as a valu-
able resource that demands responsible solutions for collecting,
separating, managing, and recovering. In particular, over the
last decade the holistic concept of a zero waste lifecycle has
emerged as part of a cultural shift and a new way of thinking
about the age-old problem of waste and the economic obsession
with endless growth and consumption.
A global understanding has emerged, which widely accepts
that the broad impact of climate change-which includes biodi-
versity loss: increasing air, water, and soil pollution; deforesta-
tion; and a shortage of resources and materials-is a consequence
of over-consumption and unsustainable production processes.
Emerging complex global issues, such as health and the environ-
ment, or lifestyles and consumption, and development require
approaches that transcend the traditional boundaries between
disciplines. Today, it is increasingly understood that we need to
discuss resource-efficiency and resource-recovery in the same
way that we currently discuss energy-efficiency. This includes
waste minimization strategies and the concept of designing
waste out of processes and product[s].'
At the local level, every municipality or company can
take immediate action to identify its own particular solutions.
Separating recyclable materials, such as paper, metals, plastics,
and glass bottles, and consolidating all identified waste catego-
ries into one collection point are some basic measures. How-
ever, a waste stream analysis should be conducted, involving
an inventory of the entire waste composition, measurement of
the volumes of different material categories, and their origins
and destinations. Municipalities can create databases to track
all waste types and to cross reference by facility type, so the
amount and type of waste each facility, district, or precinct gen-
erates can be identified, thus pinpointing where reductions are
most feasible.
The concept of zero waste directly challenges the com-
mon assumption that waste is unavoidable and has no value by
focusing on waste as a misallocated resource that has to be
recovered. It also focuses on the avoidance of waste creation
in the first place. In Australia for instance, households throw
out approximately five billion dollars of food every year.2 This
raises much wider social questions of attitude and behavior, and

has further implications on urban development. How will we
design, build, and operate cities in the future? What role will
materials flow and waste play in the city of tomorrow? How
will we better engage sustainable urban development principles
and zero waste thinking? These are some of the topics dis-
cussed in this paper.
In recent years, the need for more sustainable living choices
and a focus on behavioral change has been increasingly artic-
ulated. The estimated yearly world waste production is now
around four billion metric tons of waste, of which only twenty
percent is currently recovered or recycled.3 Globally, waste
management has emerged as a huge challenge, and we must take
a fresh look at how we can best manage the waste and material
streams of cities and urban developments. The issue of our cit-
ies' ever growing waste production is of particular significance
if we view the city as a living eco-system with closed-loop man-
agement cycles (See: Figure 1).
Anna Tibaijuka notes that managing solid waste is always
in the top five of the most challenging problems for city manag-
ers and it is somewhat strange that it receives so little attention
compared to other urban management issues. The quality of waste
management services is a good indicator of a city's governance.
Clearly there are some serious implications around the topic of
waste. It is obvious that it is not just about waste recycling, but
also waste prevention. Avoidance is the priority, followed by
recycling and waste engineering (up-scaling) to minimize the
amount that goes to waste incineration and landfills.
Waste Disposal in Landfills
Landfill runoff and leachate are a threat to soil and ground-
water, and methane gas discharges-mainly from organic waste
* Dr. Steffen Lehmann is the Professor of Sustainable Design and Inaugural
Director of the Zero Waste SA Research Centre for Sustainable Design and
Behaviour ('sd4b) at the University of South Australia, in Adelaide. He has
held the UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Urban Development for the Asia-Pacific
Region (2008 to 2010), and was the Professor and Chair of the Architecture
School at the University of Newcastle (NSW)from 2002 to 2010. He is General-
Editor of the US-published Journal of Green Building (since 2006) and the con-
vener of the international conference on 'Sustainable Architecture and Urban
Development'held in Amman, Jordan in July 2010.

FALL 2010


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