The European Waste Hierarchy: from the sociomateriality of waste to a politics of consumption
Municipal solid waste is a central concern for environmental policy, and the sociomateriality of waste—the ways in which waste is socially defined and dealt with—is an important issue for sustainability. We show how applying the European Union’s waste policy through the European Waste Hierarchy (EWH) affects the sociomateriality of waste. The EWH ranks the desirability of different waste-management approaches according to their environmental impact. We investigate how the EWH has been acknowledged and interpreted in five different organizational contexts with relevance for Swedish waste management: EU environmental policy, the Swedish EPA, two municipal waste-management companies, and the trade organization Swedish Waste Management which represents the interests of municipal bodies involved with waste. In addition to preventing the production of waste, the EWH aims to disassemble, circulate, and reintroduce as much material as possible into production processes. We show how these aims shape paradoxical relationships between economy and society on the one hand, and environment and nature on the other, and open the way for a discussion of a politics of consumption through material management. Keywords: sociomateriality, municipal waste management, the European Waste Hierarchy, industrial ecology, ecological modernization
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