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AMERIPEN Annual Meeting Sneak Peek: Q&A with Dr. Tim Townsend

Tuesday, April 17, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Q&A with Dr. Tim Townsend – Applying an SMM Lens to State Solid Waste Programs

Dr. Timothy Townsend is a professor of Environmental Engineering Sciences in the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment at the University of Florida. His area of expertise is solid and hazardous waste management. Dr. Townsend recently completed a comprehensive waste management assessment for the State of Florida applying a sustainable material management lens to identify opportunities to help the State reach a 75% diversion goal. AMERIPEN recently contracted Dr. Townsend to apply his SMM analysis to three States each with varying approaches and goals related to waste management. Dr. Townsend will present his findings at the AMERIPEN conference in Washington DC May 30-June 1.

  1. Can you tell us more about a sustainable materials management approach and why should States be considering this.

    Many states have been shifting to sustainable materials management (SMM) because of its focus on material resource-efficient actions from point of extraction to end-of-life management. Currently state and local governments target tons recycled. What life-cycle models tell us is that not every ton of material has the same environmental impact. Our research focuses on how to integrate life-cycle thinking into materials management strategies. One approach would be to use life-cycle thinking to prioritize investing in materials that have the largest environmental impact. States such as Oregon incorporate SMM approaches by targeting upstream activities, such as sustainable manufacturing practices or encouraging consumers to reuse materials.

  2. At the same time that many packaging associations are embracing the concept of SMM, there has been some criticism that sustainable materials management is an excuse not to recycle certain materials, how would you respond to that belief?

    There is certainly potential for the concept to be misused but when used appropriately, it provides a sound strategy for managing our resources. A desired outcome of SMM is for policy makers to reach a greater understanding of how to manage materials strategically according to their environmental, economic, and social impacts. The most substantial environmental benefits result from not using and thus generating materials in the first place. Recycling needs to be prioritized where it has the biggest benefit.

  3. AMERIPEN has engaged you to assess three States in addition to the assessment you already completed for the State of Florida, are there any early trends or interesting findings you can share?

    The first finding related to the three states is that state agencies report and track data differently and the data needed to conduct the assessment are not always readily available. To complete the assessment, state-specific assumptions were often necessary. Early findings, indicate that the environmental benefit associated with source reduction may out weight the environmental impacts associated with source generation plus recycling, a result of the greater benefits associated with source reducing materials, such as newspaper and other paper products.

  1. As the concept of sustainable materials management gains traction in the waste and recycling communities there is a parallel discussion around the need to revise metrics away from outcome-based metrics towards impact-based metrics. What does your data suggest in terms of the value of this discussion and viable alternative metrics?

    As discussed earlier, recycling one ton of aluminum cans does not have the same greenhouse gas emissions or energy usage as recycling a ton of yard trash. Incorporating life-cycle thinking into sustainability metrics enables state and local governments to make decisions based on desired outcomes. The specific environmental outcomes can be adjusted among locations to meet desired interests. A community-based decision-making process that prioritizes the attributes most important to a region should have appeal.

  2. As it relates to packaging are there any relevant policies you project might result from your data?

    The results emphasize the environmental impact differences among different materials. I project state and federal environmental agencies will, in the future, require manufacturers to provide more information on the environmental burdens or footprints associated with their products and packaging.


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