Analysis of institutional structures for sustainable solid waste management for the South West of England
Waste management has become one of the major global environmental concerns of our times associated, as it is, with the consumerist tendencies which fuel the engine of economic growth and environmental impacts. Existing policies in the UK have not yet managed to curb the problem of steadily increasing waste generation despite efforts by Central government and the European Union to set inflexible national targets for waste management. A major problem is that while central government sets the overall goals to be achieved, actual waste collection and disposal are functions of 'local government. In many cases local governments lack the resources and capacity to make economically efficient and environmentally effective decisions. Waste management infrastructure must be developed for the long-term, yet economic efficiency considerations often conflict with local political objectives and with a wide range of resource constraints. Local government is not always the most suitable level to deal with problems that often have regional impacts or can be more efficiently organised within larger geographic units. The European Commission is starting to re-consider the application of its rigid waste management hierarchy in light of suggestions that sustainable solutions may vary across regions. Changes in the regulatory environment for solid waste and the regionalisation of disposal infrastructure present economic opportunities which pose the need for institutional change in waste practices. The study examines the institutional arrangements for municipal solid waste management within the South West of England region. Using in-depth key actor interviews, questionnaires, and Force Field Analysis, key actor and stakeholders perceptions on the concept of sustainable waste management are examined, and opportunities and obstacles arising from evolving institutional arrangements are identified. The study finds that there are significant barriers to the development of more sustainable Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM) in the South West Region, iii especially in the areas of 'culture' (both public culture and organisational), regional institutional capacity, and related markets. Amongst the issues that need to be addressed are the interrelated issues of public awareness, participation and empowerment, parochialism and the lack of power of regional institutions to deal with Local Authority waste management contracts within an implementable strategy for the region, the (often negative) influence of the markets related to MSWM, the lack of responsibility for funding of programmes aimed at changing public behaviour, and potential conflict of interest amongst stakeholder groups. Central government, Local Authorities and the waste management industry all need to instigate significant changes in institutions and institutional arrangements in order to achieve a move towards more sustainable MSWM.