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Questioning the Waste Hierarchy: The Case of a Region with a Low Population Density

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Discussions of municipal solid waste (MSW) management are influenced increasingly by the concept of the waste hierarchy which, broadly speaking, places landfill as the least acceptable option for dealing with MSW, followed by incineration, recycling, re-use and reduction at source. In this paper, we want to question the wisdom of applying the waste hierarchy in a region with a low population density. The hierarchy was first developed with reference to the high population density areas such as the core of the EU. However, in low population density areas the economics of the various approaches to MSW is likely to be quite different. As a result, the application of the hierarchy could place an undue economic burden on a region relative to the environmental benefits that might arise. We estimate the costs, both internal and external, of the various methods of dealing with MSW in an area with the appropriate population density, drawing on information from a wide variety of sources. We find that landfill is significantly cheaper than in high population density areas, even when account is taken of the associated externalities. In addition, it is generally cheaper than the alternative methods. As such, we conclude that landfill should not be shunned as a disposal method in low population density areas.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 1997

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