A NATIONAL "policy" often emerges as the result of an accretion of numerous individual decisions, subject to different pressures, and made over a long time, rather than from plans and goals formulated by a governing body. The consequence of such a process is that the policy, formed after the fact, takes on some of the contradictions accumulated over separate and disparate decisions. Our present materials policy falls into this category; it is a piecemeal affair.
It is not the intention of this book to prescribe a specific package of remedies for our existing de facto materials policy, but to offer a coherent way to look at material flows, a way that can be used in the formulation of materials policy. We can think of the formulation of this policy on three levels. At the most elementary level (discussed in chapters 2 and 3) there is a "large" quantity of waste generated, a "low" amount of recycling, and direct concern for resource availability in the future. At this level the approach to materials use and the remedies prescribed are in the piecemeal tradition of our existing "policy"--subsidies on recycling, product specification, and so forth. As in the existing policy, this approach is a collection of particular responses to particular pressures. The difference is that some of the pressures and perceptions are new, and some of the prescribed remedies tend to be in the conservative direction.
As seen in chapter 2, at this level the focus is too narrow. In terms of the analogy with the sailing ship mentioned in chapter 1, the focus is like setting a particular sail without taking into account the balances among the sails. There is no relationship of one sail to another, no way of telling whether copper should be recycled at one rate and iron at another. By concentrating on an increase in recycling, one may inadvertently shorten durability. Or, as in the case of voluntary recycling efforts,