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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Looking past the present waste : path dependencies in municipal solid waste management in the US and European Union Davis, Ryan


Incineration of municipal solid waste practiced in Europe has been noted as a best practice, and if not for NIMBYism, it is one that the US could adopt more broadly. At present waste-to-energy technologies, such as incineration, are used to manage 24% of municipal solid waste generated per year in the EU, while the US incineration is used to manage slightly under 12% of municipal solid waste per year. Additionally, incineration in the EU has increased over the past 20 years whereas incineration in the US has been on a lingering decline over this same time period. However, the use of incineration was once greater in the US than it is today in the EU. This study analyzed the reasons for this divergence in incineration use through investigation of historical events beginning in the early 1800s in both regions. Identification and analysis of key drivers and critical junctures in the US and Europe are compared. Over time, these events created path dependencies which explain the evolution of municipal solid waste management in the US and Europe. Particularly important path dependent drivers of this evolution include local control, availability of funds, and availability of resources. The historical analysis indicates that European municipalities having a long history of local control, the financial capacity to fund infrastructure and service projects, and an awareness of benefits gained from waste-to-energy technology have resulted in the increased adoption of municipal solid waste incineration. Conversely, US municipalities had local authority eroded and constrained over time, had a lack of financial capacity and assistance to fund municipal projects, and also had access to relatively abundant land and fossil fuel resources. The result was the decline of reliance on incineration in the US since 1960. An understanding of the importance of path dependencies in shaping current renewable technology adoption, such as waste-to-energy, can better inform other policy discussions including climate change.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada