Breaking the cycle of municipal solid waste management in the United States : a contemporary biotechnic approach
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Solid waste management in the United States is one urban practice that provides evidence for, and reinforces Marx’s theory of urban “metabolic rift.” However, urban planners as a field have historically shifted the onus for solid waste issues to engineers and private citizens. By avoiding waste, planners have dismissed a basic portion of their responsibility to the public and violated their own code of ethics. Repairing the metabolic balance of cities is admittedly a colossal undertaking. It will be necessary for planners to once again pay attention to the sub-field that spawned their profession, but this time through an updated frame, or mode of interpreting reality. In the course of this project, I uncover frames that have been employed by planners in the past and the effects these frames have had for solid waste management. Finding that rational positivist, grassroots communitarian, and insurgent radical frames have not adequately addressed the chronic symptoms of our metabolic rift, I analyze and adapt a frame for planning, the biotechnic frame, which is based on Sir Patrick Geddes’ theory of technics and civics. Finally, in order to test an innovative sustainable solid waste management technology that holds promise for repairing the metabolic rift, I evaluate the practice of landfill mining to determine whether or not it fits within a biotechnic frame. This study shows that waste is a frame, or mode of understanding conditions, not an inevitability. Rather than solid waste sitting untouched in landfills, it can be reintegrated into the material and energy flows of the city-region, helping to balance the urban metabolism and “close the loop” on a historically linear waste cycle. With the appropriate frame, planners are especially equipped to facilitate this change.