American Waste: Paradigm Shifting Toward a Circular Economy

October 4, 2018 12:00 pm — 2:00 pm
Washington, DC (and webinar)

Cosponsored by ELI, Economic & Human Dimensions Research Associates, Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS), and National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE)

Often hidden from sight, waste is an epidemic with impacts on both the environment and long-term economic prosperity. Americans generate approximately 258 million tons of waste per year, and such does not represent externalities arising from emissions of waste or materials associated with the production process. The inefficient use of resources, as illustrated by this magnitude of waste, presents a roadblock to both sustainable development and a truly prosperous economic system. The burdens created by these inefficiencies draw financial resources away from other social and economic opportunities. In an extractive economic model, business revenues are primarily anchored to the sale of limited commodities such as tons of coal, steel, and paper. While this economic model of extraction and waste product has been present in American infrastructure for centuries, there are a litany of new opportunities for alternative models, including ones already in use and those increasingly on the horizon. Examples of viable solutions include redesigning infrastructure towards a “circular economy,” where resources are reused for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from their lifespan, followed by recovering and regenerating items that would be traditionally defined as waste.

Our panelists explored the future of American waste, the potential for transformative sustainable innovation, and the regulatory aspects hindering and helping to establish a circular economy. In doing so, the panel explored the possibilities of designing circular, waste-free economic, legal, and regulatory models to foster a cradle-to-cradle lifespan of material goods.

John Pendergrass, Vice President of Programs and Publications, Environmental Law Institute, Moderator
Mike Italiano, President & Chief Executive Officer, Capital Markets Partnership
John A. “Skip” Laitner, Principal & Independent Consultant, Economic & Human Dimensions Research Associates
Elizabeth Richardson, Principal, Beveridge & Diamond PC
Meagan Weiland, Independent Researcher, Economic & Human Dimensions Research Associates and Program Coordinator, Science Magazine

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