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Note: X marks life cycle stages where actor has greater influence.

Note: X marks life cycle stages where actor has greater influence.

Some states have chosen not to delegate all of these responsibilities to localities, giving counties a significant role. States regulate waste haulers and disposal operations. States also require counties and/or municipalities to develop solid waste management plans, and some go as far as requiring at-source separation and recycling, in addition to ensuring adequate incinerator or landfill capacity. States have also passed bottle bills and other legislation affecting the solid waste stream.

At the federal level, legislation and subsequent regulations have set stringent standards for landfill design, incinerator emissions and the exchange, transport and storage of solid wastes, especially those classified as hazardous. Recently, the US Supreme Court has invoked the inter-state commerce clause of the Constitution to invalidate state-level solid waste management flow control laws that directed in-state waste flows to specific in-state facilities (Gordon and Weintraub 1995).

In short, all levels of government are involved in MSW management, with higher levels establishing the rules, and lower levels implementing them with a great deal of autonomy. This places MSW management, and the implementation of industrial ecology, firmly in the context of the reigning political structure (US federalism in this case).

A useful, politically oriented advance in the life cycle assessment process is to consider the various potential actors at each life cycle stage (King 1996). The key actors include producer industries, waste management firms, household generators, commercial generators, institutional generators, community organizations/non-profits, municipal government, county government, state government and the federal government. Each is very involved at some point in the product life cycle, but may have little impact on other parts of it. Table 44.1 shows that there is a vast range of solid waste management options by actor and life cycle stage. The figure reminds us that policy needs more than a 'what' and 'why' -reformers must also answer the 'who' question. These questions are interdependent, and industrial ecologists cannot meaningfully answer the first two questions without a deeper understanding of the third.

A particularly contentious feature of units within federal systems is their interdepen-dency (Rabe 1997). All else equal, the political actors in these units prefer as much independence as possible, but economic and geographical forces create binding ties. Controversy can erupt when unbalanced relationships develop which seem to transform interdependence based on comparative economic advantage into dependence that decreases local political autonomy. Over the last 30 years, the 50 US states have gone from nearly complete self-sufficiency in municipal solid waste disposal to a situation of persistent imbalance (Goldstein 2000). Persistent imbalance is not always seen as a problem: few complain when New Jerseyans buy cars from Michigan and avocados from California. However, local environmentalists are less willing to let the state's municipalities bury waste in Pennsylvania because it puts environmentally significant activities beyond the reach of the New Jersey state regulatory apparatus.

Federal systems of government may promote inefficiency when policies run counter to market forces. Some states have wielded a strong regulatory hand in the municipal solid waste arena, visible in the adoption of flow control policies, for example. A dramatic price gradient persists even as we enter the post flow-control era in the USA (Repa and Blakey 1996). While the higher land and energy prices in the northeast region contribute to higher MSW tipping fees, alone they cannot account for weighted-average regional tip fees that differ by hundreds of per cent. Dramatic variations in average tip fees persist even between counties in one small US state (Andrews and Decter 1997). Market failures and/or politics must play a role.

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