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Beyond Waste Management: Challenges to Sustainable Global Physical Resource Management
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Industrial Ecology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9215-0166
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Current physical resource management (PRM) was investigated in a global perspective in this thesis, to gain a deeper understanding of its implications in a sustainability perspective. In particular, the main challenges to the current PRM system and the kinds of systemic changes needed for sustainable PRM were examined. In five separate studies, different theoretical and practical challenges to current PRM approaches were analysed. A descriptive literature review, causal loop diagrams and semi-structured interviews were performed to gather qualitative and quantitative inferences. Perspectives from industrial ecology, life cycle thinking, systems thinking and environmental philosophy were then applied to analyse global resource/waste management issues.

The analysis resulted in an overview of the global ecological sustainability challenges to current PRM and identification of major challenges to the global waste management system. Causal loop diagrams were used to qualitatively analyse the structure and behaviour of production and consumption systems responsible for unintended environmental consequences of purposive actions to improve material and energy efficiencies. Ways in which resource quality could be maintained throughout the system of production and consumption systems were determined by identifying challenges facing product designers while closing the material loops. A planning framework was devised to operationalise the sustainable development demands in society, including production and consumption systems.

A broader systems approach is proposed for future sustainable global PRM, focusing on ensuring societal functions within the human activity system. The approach involves designing and managing anthropogenic stocks of physical resources to reduce inflows of physical resources and outflows of wastes and emissions. Life cycle-based databases linking resource consumption with waste generation are needed for improved global PRM.

Abstract [sv]

I denna avhandling undersöktes fysisk resursanvändning i ett globalt perspektiv, för att få en djupare förståelse av dess konsekvenser i ett hållbarhetsperspektiv. Framför allt undersöktes de största utmaningarna med den aktuella fysiska resurshanteringen och vilka typer av systemförändringar som krävs för en hållbar fysisk resurshantering. I fem studier analyserades olika teoretiska och praktiska utmaningar för den nuvarande fysiska resurshanteringen. Litteraturstudier, kausala loopdiagram och semistrukturerade intervjuer genomfördes för att samla kvalitativ och kvantitativ information. Perspektiv från industriell ekologi, livscykeltänkande, systemtänkande och miljöfilosofi tillämpades för att analysera globala resurs- och avfallshanteringsfrågor.

Analysen resulterade i en översikt av den nuvarande fysiska resurshanteringens globala ekologiska hållbarhetsutmaningar och identifiering av stora utmaningar för den globala avfallshanteringen. Kausala loopdiagram användes för att kvalitativt analysera strukturen och beteendet hos de produktions- och konsumtionssystem som gör att ändamålsenliga åtgärder för att förbättra material- och energieffektivitet får oavsiktliga negativa miljökonsekvenser. Hur resurskvalitet kan upprätthållas i produktions- och konsumtionssystemen som helhet bestämdes genom att identifiera de utmaningar som produktdesigners möter när de sluter kretslopp av material. En planeringsmodell utformades för att operationalisera kraven på hållbar utveckling i samhället, bland annat produktions- och konsumtionssystem.

Ett bredare systemtänkande föreslås för en hållbar global fysisk resursförvaltning i framtiden, med fokus på att säkerställa samhällsfunktioner inom det mänskliga aktivitetssystemet. Tillvägagångssättet innebär att utforma och hantera antropogena fysiska resurser i syfte att: minska inflödet av fysiska resurser; och utflödet av avfall och utsläpp. Livscykelbaserade databaser som länkar resursanvändning till avfallsgenerering behövs för att förbättra den globala fysiska resursförvaltningen.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2016. , 145 p.
Series
TRITA-IM, ISSN 1402-7615 ; 2016:03
Keyword [en]
Sustainable global physical resource management, global waste management, systems thinking, life cycle thinking, planning framework, global environmental justice, circular economy
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-186517ISBN: 978-91-7595-917-7 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-186517DiVA: diva2:927544
Public defence
2016-06-09, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Projects
India4EU
Note

QC 20160516

Available from: 2016-05-16 Created: 2016-05-12 Last updated: 2016-05-16Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Progress and challenges to the global waste management system
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Progress and challenges to the global waste management system
2014 (English)In: Waste Management & Research, ISSN 0734-242X, E-ISSN 1096-3669, Vol. 32, no 9, 800-812 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Rapid economic growth, urbanization and increasing population have caused (materially intensive) resource consumption to increase, and consequently the release of large amounts of waste to the environment. From a global perspective, current waste and resource management lacks a holistic approach covering the whole chain of product design, raw material extraction, production, consumption, recycling and waste management. In this article, progress and different sustainability challenges facing the global waste management system are presented and discussed. The study leads to the conclusion that the current, rather isolated efforts, in different systems for waste management, waste reduction and resource management are indeed not sufficient in a long term sustainability perspective. In the future, to manage resources and wastes sustainably, waste management requires a more systems-oriented approach that addresses the root causes for the problems. A specific issue to address is the development of improved feedback information (statistics) on how waste generation is linked to consumption.

Keyword
Global challenges, resource management, root causes, systems approach, wastes
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-155150 (URN)10.1177/0734242X14537868 (DOI)000342632500002 ()2-s2.0-84907200004 (Scopus ID)
Note

QC 20141104. Updated from manuscript to article in journal.

Available from: 2014-11-04 Created: 2014-10-31 Last updated: 2016-05-16Bibliographically approved
2. Unintended environmental consequences of improvement actions: A qualitative analysis of systems' structure and behavior
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Unintended environmental consequences of improvement actions: A qualitative analysis of systems' structure and behavior
Show others...
2015 (English)In: Systems research and behavioral science, ISSN 1092-7026, E-ISSN 1099-1743Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

We qualitatively analysed how and why environmental improvement actions often lead to unintended environmental consequences. Different theories are integrated to delineate the underlying system structure causing this system behavior. Causal loop diagram technique is utilized to explore and visualize: how incremental improvements in material and energy efficiency can unintendedly cause consumption to increase; how this consumption rebound effect is linked to generation of waste and pollution; and how this can give rise to social and negative externalities, economic inequalities and other broad unintended consequences in our society. Consumption and incremental innovation are found to be the highest leverage points and reinforcing factors driving unintended environmental consequences in this complex system. The paper in addition explores two potential modes of behaviour dissimilar to those of unintended environmental consequences. These emerging modes of behaviour are product-service systems and environmental policy instruments. Their combination forms a prominent transition pathway from a production-consumption-dispose economy to a so-called circular economy.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2015
Keyword
Unintended environmental consequences; incremental innovation, consumption rebound effect; causal loop diagram.
National Category
Environmental Management
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-164870 (URN)10.1002/sres.2330 (DOI)000379955400006 ()2-s2.0-84923340510 (Scopus ID)
Note

QC 20160812

Available from: 2015-04-20 Created: 2015-04-20 Last updated: 2016-08-12Bibliographically approved
3. Resource recovery from post-consumer waste: Important lessons for the upcoming circular economy
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Resource recovery from post-consumer waste: Important lessons for the upcoming circular economy
2016 (English)In: Journal of Cleaner Production, ISSN 0959-6526, E-ISSN 1879-1786, Vol. 134, no SI, 342-353 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

A circular economy has been proposed as a sustainable alternative to our current linear economic system, mainly by recirculating material resources for new product development. To understand resource recirculation in practice, this paper analyses over 50 examples of products developed from discarded materials, categorising them into the recovery routes described in the circular economy literature. The examples were obtained during interviews with waste management professionals and designers who had developed products with discards. Practical challenges to implementing a circular economy were identified based on the example categorisation and comments from the interviews. The main difference observed was that the examples mostly recirculate resources to make different types of products, whereas a circular economy requires manufacturing companies to take back their own products to secure their material resources. This is partly because in practice the material collection system in place is waste management, rather than manufacturing-centred take-back systems. A revised model for recovery routes in society in which waste management is allocated an important role in facilitating material recirculation is therefore presented. The study highlights that current product design is facing a new challenge of anticipating social, economic and environmental challenges to realise the goals of a circular economy.

Keyword
Resource recovery, Circular economy, Post-consumer waste, Re-manufacturing, Product design, Product study
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-186515 (URN)10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.12.020 (DOI)000382409700031 ()2-s2.0-84969975684 (Scopus ID)
Note

QC 20160512

Available from: 2016-05-12 Created: 2016-05-12 Last updated: 2016-09-23Bibliographically approved
4. Towards Addressing Unintended Environmental Consequences: A Planning Framework
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Towards Addressing Unintended Environmental Consequences: A Planning Framework
2015 (English)In: Sustainable Development, ISSN 0968-0802, E-ISSN 1099-1719, Vol. 24, no 1, 1-17 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Efforts to decouple environmental impacts and resource consumption have been confounded by interactions and feedback between technical-economic, environmental and social aspects not considered prior to implementing improvement actions. This paper presents a planning framework that connects material flows and the socio-economic drivers that result in changes in these flows, in order to reduce conflicts between localized gains and global losses. The framework emphasizes the need for (i) having different settings of system boundaries (broader and narrower), (ii) explicitly accounting for causal relationships and feedback loops and (iii) identifying responsibilities between stakeholders (e.g. producers, consumers, collectors, recyclers, policy makers). Application of the framework is exemplified using the case of the global mobile phone product system. 'Product design and development' and 'Retailers and users as part of a collection system' were identified as central intervention points for implementing improvement strategies that included designing for longer life, designing for recycling and improving collection, designing for limiting phone hibernation time and internalizing external costs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Wiley-Blackwell, 2015
Keyword
Global sustainability, Physical resource management, Planning, Sustainable development, Systems thinking, Unintended environmental consequences
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-176245 (URN)10.1002/sd.1601 (DOI)000370661900001 ()2-s2.0-84958121991 (Scopus ID)
Note

QC 20151116. QC 20160319

Available from: 2015-11-16 Created: 2015-11-02 Last updated: 2016-08-29Bibliographically approved
5. Towards a Concerted Approach to Physical Resource Management
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Towards a Concerted Approach to Physical Resource Management
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In the past few decades, substantial improvements in well-being for a large fraction of the global population have been possible, partly thanks to the exploitation of natural resources. These improvements have been accompanied by large amounts of raw material inflows and outflows of residues/wastes/emissions, which together threaten global sustainability. This study examined some of these sustainability challenges facing current global physical resource management due to the increasing inflows of physical resources to the human activity system and the increasing outflows from that system. For this purpose, the annual production rates and the global resource reserves of 12 natural resources, including major resources for energy (oil, natural gas and coal), agricultural inputs (phosphorus, water and zinc) and industrial production (the rare earth and precious metals) were studied. The results indicate that global reserves of gold, silver, copper, zinc and antimony can sustain their current production rates for only 15-30 years. The longevity of global reserves of oil and phosphorus has increased over the past two decades. The global reserves of natural gas have more than doubled, but the longevity has not increased due to the increasing production rates. Overall, the results show that the global community could simultaneously experience several resource peaks in the coming 30-40 years, leading to inflow-driven economic, technological and social resource supply constraints. They also indicate that the resource supply risks for many resources have not decreased, despite increasing global reserves over the past two decades. In a global context, these findings emphasise the need for recognising and managing the ecological constraints to increasing inflows of physical resources and the outflows of wastes and emissions.

Keyword
Sustainable physical resource management
National Category
Environmental Sciences Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-186508 (URN)
Note

QC 20160518

Available from: 2016-05-12 Created: 2016-05-12 Last updated: 2016-05-18Bibliographically approved

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