Turning Waste into Resources: Rethinking the way we discard things

Ordoñes, I. (2014). Turning Waste into Resources: Rethinking the way we discard things. (Licenciate thesis). Gothenburg: Chalmers University of Technology.

Publication type
Academic thesis
PhD Project: From Waste to Resources
Isabel Ordoñez Pizarro
Published year



Waste is one of the biggest challenges faced by our society. If not handled correctly, waste pollutes our natural environment with devastating results. However, it seems almost unavoidable that our society generates waste. Cyclical material use models have been proposed as a more sustainable alternative to our linear take-make-waste production culture. The aim of this licentiate thesis has been to investigate how to recover the material resources that today cannot go back into production, helping to redefine waste as a resource.

In order to do that this work first defines a framework to address material flow through society followed by a general background on waste and waste management. The main body of the licentiate describes three studies performed by the author in order explore the topic addressed. The studies investigated (A) how design and waste management collaborate, (B) how to facilitate designing with difficult waste and (C) how the waste system interface can be designed to facilitate resource recovery. Studies A, B and C are described in the central chapters of this work, with more information provided through the annexed Articles.

All three studies relied on the tacit knowledge of different relevant stakeholders in order to gain knowledge about the problem addressed. Studies B and C were carried out in collaboration with different actors, meaning that the knowledge gained in these studies have been generated collectively.

The work concludes two relevant gaps to address in order to improve resource recovery: (1) the connection between waste management and production systems and (2) the connection between the users and the waste system. The first gap was addressed partially in Study B, where the possibilities of designing with difficult waste were explored. The main barrier to design with waste was found to be the lack of reliable material knowledge. It was also made clear that designing with waste is a palliative solution. Difficult materials reaching the waste system should be avoided to the highest possible extent. In the case of pre-consumer waste this could be achieved by broader adaptation of industrial symbiosis and stricter production regulations. For post-consumer waste , difficult waste should be avoided by significantly improving waste sorting and collection systems.

Sorting and collection systems were addressed in Study C, which mainly investigated the relation between the users and the waste management system. Study C found that solutions that are in line with users' relations towards discarded materials are more easily adopted by the users, while solutions that generate value for the users could be a way to significantly improve user engagement. Biodegradable waste is currently insufficiently recovered, constituting a large portion of the discards that are landfilled or incinerated. Possibilities of recovering bio-waste shall be explored with future work.

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