Special Feature on the Environmentally Sustainable CityMaterial Flows for a Sustainable City

In IRES Vol.5 No.2
Peer-reviewed Article

Materials flow through cities on a daily basis, entering as needed products and leaving as wastes. Management of municipal solid waste provides both sanitation and recovery of valuable materials. At low income levels, market forces lead to recycling with no need for planning. In developing countries today, as in developed countries in the past, the relationship between urban wages and material prices promotes recovery of many materials. However, as wages rise, people become less willing to engage in labor-intensive recycling. At the same time, the waste stream expands and changes in composition; in particular, paper represents a greater fraction of urban waste at higher income levels. Although the market no longer compels recycling, people in high-income countries are willing to pay for municipal recycling programs, and often protest when recycling is cut back or eliminated. There is a need to plan for recycling in a high-income context, particularly for recovery and recycling of paper products, without reliance on the low wages that led to widespread recycling in the past. As Asian cities and countries develop in the twenty-first century, they will need to manage a changing and growing waste stream and plan for new approaches to recycling in order to make their development sustainable.


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Frank Ackerman