Political Economy Perspective

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Rapid changes in both the character of the waste stream and in the relative attractiveness of management strategies demonstrate that 'trash is a dynamic category' (Strasser 1999, p. 3). Since trash is created by sorting, nothing is inherently trash, and it becomes important to focus on the categorizing process that defines trash (ibid., p.5). Solid waste management involves both collective decisions and individual decisions nested within the collective framework.

Societies make collective decisions about solid waste in three overlapping areas. Cultural collectivities decide religious, moral, linguistic and aesthetic matters, and they establish boundaries on political and economic decision making. Politics is about the way human beings in aggregate are governed, and this involves ordered structures, the exercise of power and claims regarding justice (Magstadt and Schotten 1988). Economics is about the way in which resources are allocated among alternative uses to satisfy human wants (Mansfield 1970), in a world with working but imperfect markets.

Political economy, as used here, examines 'the interrelationship between the practical aspects of political action and the pure theory of economics' (Pearce 1986). The strand of political economy research that examines the provision of public goods is especially helpful for thinking about solid waste. It analyzes collective decision making using a microeconomic lens, and its vocabulary includes terms such as excludability, divisibility, externalities, asset specificity and transaction costs (see Chapter 5 for definitions). The issues are illustrated primarily by using US data, in order to keep this chapter tractable; the details of other systems differ and are well described elsewhere (for example, Onibokun 1999; Gandy 1994; Carra and Cossu 1990; Barton et al. 1985; Bridgwater and Lidgren 1981).

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Trash To Cash

Trash To Cash

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