Beyond Waste Management : Challenges to Sustainable Global Physical Resource Management

Abstract: Current physical resource management (PRM) was investigated in a global perspective in this thesis, to gain a deeper understanding of its implications in a sustainability perspective. In particular, the main challenges to the current PRM system and the kinds of systemic changes needed for sustainable PRM were examined. In five separate studies, different theoretical and practical challenges to current PRM approaches were analysed. A descriptive literature review, causal loop diagrams and semi-structured interviews were performed to gather qualitative and quantitative inferences. Perspectives from industrial ecology, life cycle thinking, systems thinking and environmental philosophy were then applied to analyse global resource/waste management issues.The analysis resulted in an overview of the global ecological sustainability challenges to current PRM and identification of major challenges to the global waste management system. Causal loop diagrams were used to qualitatively analyse the structure and behaviour of production and consumption systems responsible for unintended environmental consequences of purposive actions to improve material and energy efficiencies. Ways in which resource quality could be maintained throughout the system of production and consumption systems were determined by identifying challenges facing product designers while closing the material loops. A planning framework was devised to operationalise the sustainable development demands in society, including production and consumption systems.A broader systems approach is proposed for future sustainable global PRM, focusing on ensuring societal functions within the human activity system. The approach involves designing and managing anthropogenic stocks of physical resources to reduce inflows of physical resources and outflows of wastes and emissions. Life cycle-based databases linking resource consumption with waste generation are needed for improved global PRM.