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New Report Examines Strategies for Sustainable Material & Waste Management

Thursday, May 25, 2017  
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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated 258 million tons of waste in 2014, triple what was produced in the 1960s. Much of this output is due to population growth, increasing land development, decreasing life span of products and the increasing intensity of material uses. Communities are under increasing pressure to become more sustainable but often must deal with competing needs and goals.

A city cannot be sustainable if it generates more waste than it can assimilate, say researchers Ning Ai, PhD, and Nancey Green Leigh, PhD, FAICP, authors of Planning for Sustainable Material and Waste Management, a new PAS report from the American Planning Association.

Ai and Leigh advise planners to look beyond waste disposal to examine the entire lifecycle of waste materials and products, and to focus on material-centered systems and closed-loop programs to help communities understand how economic, environmental, and social implications are interconnected.

Drawing from various studies and practices across the United States and beyond, they present six key strategies for creating a sustainable material and waste management program:

  • Implement regulations across all environmental media instead of focusing solely on one specific type, such as land, water or air;
  • Engage in infrastructure planning that addresses the local needs of material and waste management through the logistics chain;
  • Take a more strategic approach to financing by addressing the costs and consequences of material and waste management;
  • Create more green jobs by promoting R3 activities (reuse, recycle and remanufacture);
  • Balance equity and efficiency in material and waste management; and
  • Adopt emerging technologies and implement regulations for more efficient data collection and more effective waste diversion.

It’s important for planners to fully understand the nature of material and waste management to advise community leaders on how to reduce the impact of environmental hazards while improving economic development and promoting social equity. Planning for Sustainable Material and Waste Management gives planners the tools they need to work with smart technologies and gain stakeholder support at multiple agency levels.

This is a must-have resource for planners of all levels of experience. APA members have free digital access to Planning for Sustainable Material and Waste Management and the entire digital Planning Advisory Service (PAS) report library.

About the Authors
Ning Ai, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a joint appointment at the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy. Her research focuses on urban environmental planning, material and waste management, and system analysis of urban sustainability.

Nancey Green Leigh, PhD, FAICP, is a professor of city and regional planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology and associate dean for research in its College of Design. Leigh has published five books, including Planning Local Economic Development, 6th edition, as well as resources for planning practitioners. Her research focuses on sustainable economic development.


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The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning promotes education, research, service and outreach in the United States and throughout the world by seeking to:

  • recognize diverse needs and interests in planning;
  • improve and enhance the accreditation process, and;
  • strengthen the role of planning education in colleges and universities through publications, conferences, and community engagement;
  • extend planning beyond the classroom into the world of practice.

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