Given the importance we all ascribe to waste prevention, I thought this might be of interest.
Waste prevention—strategies such as source reduction, reuse, and repair—sit on top of the waste management hierarchy. They are considered environmentally superior to recycling, composting, incineration, and landfill.
However, in some cases, waste prevention may not lead to environmental improvements. In a recent paper in the
Journal of Industrial Ecology (https://bit.ly/JIE-WP), Maja Wiprächtiger and colleagues from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) carefully quantified the impacts of several waste prevention strategies
for clothing and furniture in Switzerland. They examine scenarios where the strategies of refuse, reuse, share, sufficiency, and repair are used. They quantify how key factors influence the sustainability of the evaluated scenarios:
• Diffusion rate—the share of the population or industry willing to engage in a waste prevention activity,
• Substitutability—whether the repair or reuse of a product means that new products will not be purchased,
• Effects on use-phase impacts—such as energy consumed during use, and
• Rebounds—reduction in expected environmental benefits when money saved is used for increased consumption.
The analysis showed that reusing clothes in Switzerland might not be environmentally favorable compared to exporting the clothes for reuse because of the way and frequency that secondhand clothes are purchased in Switzerland. Monetary savings from reduced consumption can then be spent on other goods and services, which can offset the environmental benefits of this scenario. For furniture, a return-overhaul-and-resell strategy proved the most successful.
The analysis showed the importance of consumer behavior when assessing waste prevention strategies. It further emphasized the need to avoid assuming that waste prevention leads to net environmental benefits by default. Waste prevention strategies need to be carefully evaluated and designed in a way that achieves high engagement among the population (diffusion factor), high substitutability, and small rebounds. The journal article can be found at https://bit.ly/JIE-WP and a non-technical summary is available on the ETH website at https://bit.ly/ETHZ-WP . #circulareconomy #sourcereduction #reduce #reuse #repair
Reid J. Lifset
Research Scholar; Founding Editor, Journal of Industrial Ecology
Yale School of the Environment
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