MBIs To Get From Where We Are To Where We Want
Presented at Enviro 06 in Melbourne
11 May 2006
by Matthew Warnken
Despite an increase in the volumes of resources
recovered from materials previously presenting
as waste, millions of tonnes continue to be disposed
of in 'mass-dump' landfills, accounting for the
majority of waste generated in Australia. This
linear pattern of resource flows, based on single
use and then disposal, is unsustainable in the
long term and generates immediate unwanted social,
environmental and economic impacts.
The principal cause behind unsustainable waste
disposal is the market failure that rewards (in
the short term) externalising costs onto the environment.
There is no price signal that internalises costs
directly attributable to our current 'take-make-waste'
economy. For example, costs of increased pollution,
depletion of natural resource and disruption of
ecosystem services, which can occur as direct
downstream costs, or indirect upstream impacts.
Furthermore, this same market failure does not
account for the positive externalities provided
by resource conservation. For example the 'ecoservice'
benefits associated with cyclical flows of materials
and energy. Ecoservice benefits provided by resource
recovery include energy savings, materials conservation,
pollution prevention, carbon abatement and ecosystem
Rather than adopt a prescriptive approach that
defines technology requirements for the change
to sustainability, this paper argues for a systemic
change in the operation of our markets to better
reflect a 'nature as model' mindset. This change
can be accelerated through the use of Market Based
The purpose of an MBI approach is twofold: firstly
to internalise the costs associated with end-of-life
management into the price of resources and products;
and secondly, to drive the development of resource
recovery infrastructure and markets so that ever
increasing amounts of materials are recovered
at continuously improving levels of resource value.
Changing these market parameters will encourage
the development of innovative technology, even
to the stage where the levels of effort expended
in the conversion of (wrong place/time) 'wastes'
into (right place/time) resources are similar
to those expended in the initial extraction, processing,
design, manufacture and distribution of products.
MBIs will not be the only answer to the reform
agenda, however, and an integrated implementation
with other mechanisms is required. For instance,
products need to be designed with the environment
in mind. This means that a planned end-of-life
recovery option must exist prior to product release,
highlighting the need for extended producer responsibility.
Also indiscriminate landfill can no longer be
a mass-dump 'cure-all' to cover our wasteful patterns
of production and consumption. Continuous pressure
is required to remove this soft option.
Until the operation of our markets is changed
to address the issue of externalities, our society
will have no base from which to build a concerted
effort toward addressing the sustainability challenges
of the 21st century. MBIs are an integral component
to making the revolutionary step-change from where
are we are to where we want to be in a sustainable
Click here to download the conference paper