Evolving the Theory of Waste Management – Implications to waste
, Paul S. Phillips
and Riitta L. Keiski
1University of Oulu, Mass and Heat Transfer Process Laboratory
FIN-90014 University of Oulu, POB 4300
2University College Northampton, School of Environmental Science, Sustainable Wastes Management
Team, Northampton, NN2 7AL, United Kingdom
The Theory of Waste Management is a unified body of knowledge about waste and waste
management, and it is founded on the expectation that waste management is to prevent waste to
cause harm to human health and the environment and promote resource use optimization. Waste
Management Theory is to be constructed under the paradigm of Industrial Ecology as Industrial
Ecology is equally adaptable to incorporate waste minimization and/or resource use
optimization goals and values.
Keywords: Industrial Ecology, waste, waste minimization, waste management, theory
century witnessed an unprecedented rate of technological development Technological
development is where scientific research meets engineering design. Consider the development
of information technology. Within the lifetime of an adult human, electronic devices have
evolved from luxury items accessible to only a select few, into millions of tonnes’ worth piles of
junk, puzzling entire nations, alerting legislators and environmental authorities. It appears so
that technology has been selective in adopting scientific advances, and disregarded the heeds of
environmental science: products and technologies were developed, time and again, with no
considerations for recovering and re-circulating material resources. The electronic waste
problem of the present is caused by the fact that electronic equipment now entering the waste
stream have not been designed with disassembly, re-use or recycling in mind. With our present
knowledge of causalities, the WEEE legislation was introduced in an attempt to stop this
avalanche of fine metals and plastics assembled in ingenious ways. However, legislation only
sets the goal, but does not pave the road to it. There appears to be a gap between science and
technology, one that can be bridged by technical theories.
Constructing the Theory of Waste Management
Waste Management Theory (WMT) has been introduced to channel environmental sciences into
engineering design. WMT is a unified body of knowledge about waste and waste management.
It is an effort to organise the diverse variables of the waste management system as it stands
today. WMT is considered within the paradigm of Industrial Ecology, and built side-by-side
with other relevant theories, most notably Design Theory. Design Theory is a relatively new
discipline, still under development. Following its development offers valuable insights about
evolving technical theories. According to Love (2002), it is crucial to theory development to
integrate theories from other bodies of knowledge, as well as the clarification of the definitions
Corresponding author, E-mail address: Eva.Pongracz@oulu.fi
of core concepts, and mapping out key issues, such as domains, epistemologies and ontologies.
At the present stage of WMT development, scientific definitions of key concepts have been
offered, and evolving of WMT under the paradigm of Industrial Ecology is in progress.
The function of science is to build up systems of explanatory techniques; a variety of
representative devices, including models, diagrams and theories (Toulmin 1953). Theories can
be considered milestones of scientific development. Theories are usually introduced when
previous study of a class of phenomena has revealed a system of uniformities. The purpose of
theory is then to explain systems of regularities that cannot be explained with scientific laws
(Hempel 1966). Formally, a scientific theory may be considered as a set of sentences expressed
in terms of a specific vocabulary. Theory will always be thought of as formulated within a
lingustic framework of a clear specified logical structure, which determines, in particular, the
rules of deductive inference. (Hempel, 1965)
Take the example of the definition of waste. The European Commission and Member States
were gathered for a two-day workshop in Leipzig on February 25-26 2004, to discuss the
classification of treatment operations and of the waste definition. One of the observations of the
Leipzig workshop was that “using the definition of waste is a tricky affair when determining
when something becomes waste and when it stops being waste.” To the first situation belongs
among others the placing of re-use, the application of the definition of waste to end-of- life
vehicles. To the second belong for example treated construction and demolition waste (ISWA
2004). The basic proposal of WMT is that it is able to define waste unambiguously. Four waste
classes have been defined (Table 1).
Table 1 Classes of waste (Pongrácz and Pohjola 1997).
Class 1 Non-wanted things, created not intended, or not avoided, with no purpose.
Class 2 Things that were given a finite purpose, thus destined to become useless after fulfilling it.
Class 3 Things with well-defined purpose, but their performance ceased being acceptable due to a
flaw in their Structure or State.
Class 4 Things with well-defined purpose, and acceptable performance, but their users failed to use
them for their intended purpose.
The taxonomy of waste in Table 1 was formulated using an object oriented modelling language,
PSSP™, which is based on the ontological commitment that every real thing can be formalised
as an object having four attributes: Purpose, Structure, State, and Performance (Pohjola and
Using the taxonomy of Table 2, all of the problem waste definition areas defined in the Leipzig
workshop were possible to identify as follows (Pongrácz et al. 2004):
- Re-use happens when a thing that has just performed its purpose and momentarily no new
purpose is assigned to it. This generally applies to wastes of class 2. A thing that has fulfilled
its purpose is not necessarily useless. It is because usefulness is defined by structure and
state, while re-use is subject of purpose. As long as structure and state allow performance
with respect to the assigned purpose, re-usable things shall not be considered wastes. An
empty bottle, whose Structure is undamaged is thus a useful non-waste.
- End-of-life vehicles represent wastes of class 3. They are aggregate things composed of
numerous structural parts. The loss of performance can be attributable to the inability of one
or several structural parts to perform their purpose. Repair or changing the faulty structural
parts can extend useful life.
In case the of owner abandonment despite of acceptable performance, the car represents
waste class 4. Unless the owner argues that the car did not meet his expectations of superior
performance usually attributable to newer cars. On the positive side, finding a new owner
willing to tolerate the shortcomings of a new car would render it non-waste.
- Demolition waste can be viewed as waste of class 2, one that has fulfilled its purpose. When
a structurally intact tile is separated from the aggregate object of demolition waste, it can be
assigned a new purpose and thus it shall no longer be considered waste.
Table 2 Waste minimization measures vs. Industrial Ecology principles (Pongrácz).
Waste minimization measures Industrial Ecology principles
Every molecule that enters a specific manufacturing
process should leave that process as part of a saleable
Strict avoidance of waste creation/
prevention at source
Every erg of energy used in manufacture should produce
a desired material transformation.
Reduction of waste by application of more
efficient production technologies Industries should make minimum use of materials and
energy in products, processes and in services
Source-oriented improvement of waste
quality, e.g. substitution of hazardous
Industries should choose abundant, non-toxic materials
when designing products.
Re-use of products or parts of products
Disassembling of complex products and re-
use of components
Every process and product should be designed to
preserve the embedded utility of the materials used. An
efficient way to accomplish this goal is by designing
modular equipment and by remanufacturing
Internal recycling of production waste Industries should get most of the needed materials
through recycling streams (theirs or those of others)
rather than through raw materials extraction, even in the
case of common materials
External recycling Every product should be designed so that it can be used
to create other useful products at the end of its life.
Every industrial landholding or facility should be
developed, constructed or modified with attention to
maintaining or improving local habitats and species
diversity, and to minimising impacts on local and
Close interactions should be developed with materials
suppliers, customers, and representatives of other
industries, with the aim of developing co-operative ways
of minimising packaging and of recycling and reusing
Waste minimization – resources use optimization
Prevention of waste creation is the main priority of waste management, which corresponds to
the principal goal of waste management: conservation of resources. Moving toward waste
minimisation requires that the firm commits itself to increasing the proportion of non-waste
leaving the process. It has been agued that, it follows from the laws of thermodynamics, that
producing by-products is concomitant of a main product (Baumgärtner & de Swaan Arons
2003). For this reason, industrial firms have to look beyond their factory walls, and seek for
external utilization of their waste, in accordance with the principles of Industrial Ecology (IE). If
we accept that waste minimization and resources us optimization is the most important objective
of waste management (Pongrácz 2002), it is essential that WMT is to be considered together
with IE, as resource use optimization considerations reach beyond the tradition scope of waste
management. It was argued that there is considerable overlapping between the goals of IE and
waste management where waste minimization in concerned. In Table 2, the principles of IE
(Graedel and Allenby 1995), and waste minimization measures (Vancini 2000) are listed.
From Table 2 one can clearly recognize goals and principles similar in IE as well as waste
minimization. The main difference comes from the larger scale of IE: it reaches far beyond the
walls of an industrial facility, and encourages responsible co-existence with the surrounding
environment and creating interlocking eco-systems with other companies to achieve an efficient
circulation of materials. It is, however, important that industrial facilities learn to internalize
global objectives into their local solutions, and it is here where WMT can assist. (Pongrácz.)
Industrial Ecology and Waste Management
WMT is constructed under the canopy of IE (Figure 2). IE, as applied in manufacturing,
involves the design of industrial processes and products from the dual perspectives of product
competitiveness and environmental interactions. A systems-oriented vision, built on the
principle that industrial design and manufacturing processes are to be considered in partnership
with the environment (Graedel & Allenby 1995), is what sustainable waste management needs
to grow into. Embracing the principles of IE, WMT will be instrumental in optimizing resources
Fig. 2 Waste management under the domain of Industrial Ecology (Pongrácz).
Figure 2 illustrates how WMT is positioned between other relating theories, and what tools need
to be used to achieve the objectives of IE. The ‘world of waste’ is emphasised from “Empiria,”
to highlight the influencing factors on designing waste management. It draws data from the
existing waste management infrastructure, and is restricted by its legislative constraints. On the
plane of waste management,” WMT seeks to optimise resources use from virgin raw material, to
discard. The goals, values for resources optimization originate from the paradigm of Industrial
Ecology. It was argued that the goals in IE have to be adapted by WMT and to translate the
goals of IE so that they are applicable to an industrial unit (Pongrácz). The majority of tools that
are to be adapted to industrial waste management originate in IE, however, some tools are also
influenced by Design Theory. Social aspects are also taken into account, principles such as
sufficiency, morals and responsibilities will have to be introduced into the goals and values to be
followed. From the “real world” surrounding the waste management domain, human needs and
expectations also affect the objectives set out by WMT. Finally, theory is continuously
developed and updated based on facts, regularities and observations as well as the process of
explaining observation and answering domain specific queries.
design and adopt the most appropriate waste management system, a proper
kground has to be established. It can be asserted that when one is looking for a
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side-by-side advancement can greatly contribute to the development of a sustainable agenda of
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Ecology successfully combines waste minimization and resources use optimization measures,
and ensures that resources are effectively circulated within ecosystems.
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