Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development

Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development

Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development

Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development

Synopsis

More Americans recycle than vote. And most do so to improve their communities and the environment. But do recycling programs advance social, economic, and environmental goals? To answer this, three sociologists with expertise in urban and environmental planning have conducted the first major study of urban recycling. They compare four types of programs in the Chicago metropolitan area: a community-based drop-off center, a municipal curbside program, a recycling industrial park, and a linkage program. Their conclusion, admirably elaborated, is that recycling can realize sustainable community development, but that current programs achieve few benefits for the communities in which they are located.The authors discover that the history of recycling mirrors many other urban reforms. What began in the 1960s as a sustainable community enterprise has become a commodity-based, profit-driven industry. Large private firms, using public dollars, have chased out smaller nonprofit and family-owned efforts. Perhaps most troubling is that this process was not born of economic necessity. Rather, as the authors show, socially oriented programs are actually more viable than profit-focused systems. This finding raises unsettling questions about the prospects for any sort of sustainable local development in the globalizing economy.Based on a decade of research, this is the first book to fully explore the range of impacts that recycling generates in our communities. It presents recycling as a tantalizing case study of the promises and pitfalls of community development. It also serves as a rich account of how the state and private interests linked to the global economy alter the terrain of local neighborhoods.

Excerpt

In the Fall of 1997, the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) issued a report that called for the United States government to commit itself to building sustainable communities. The report emphasized that any vision of sustainable development must begin with efforts to “encourage people to work together to create healthy communities where natural and historic resources are preserved, jobs are available, sprawl is contained, neighborhoods are secure, education is lifelong, transportation and health care are accessible, and all citizens have opportunities to improve the quality of their lives” (PCSD 1997:3). The report went on to call for new approaches to community development. In short, the council posed a very straightforward vision: communities could simultaneously achieve economic vitality, environment protection, and social equity. This is often referred to as balancing the three Es of community development.

In this book, we examine the potential for sustainable forms of community development to emerge within the United States. To do this, we reconstruct the recent history of urban recycling programs in the United States. In particular, we examine the relationship between politics and markets as they first created and later destroyed recycling programs in the Chicago metropolitan area. We note two shifts in the history of recycling. First, there was a shift away from the focus on waste as a panacea, something that could “save the environment” and/or provide job opportunities for the desperately poor. Instead, waste became treated as a commodity that could generate revenues. Second, there was also a shift away from recycling as an activity in which marginalized social groups and community-based organizations engaged toward its control by large firms, many of which now operate in global markets.

This analysis of recycling allows us to theorize more generally about sustainable development. The same economic and social policies that distorted recycling have also influenced other processes involving urban communities, workers, consumers, and local governments. They will ultimately influence any efforts to create sustainable community develop-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.