Journal article written by Joo Young Park and 2008 DPDF Animal Studies Fellow and 2009 IDRF Fellow Clare Gupta, featured in the Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 154:
Localism or regionalization has become a popular topic in urban design, but recent critics raise the question of whether the local or regional scale is most desirable for industrial ecosystems. As a way to explore the claim that localized metabolism is more sustainable, this study examines the costs and benefits of two differentially scaled strategies for the management of post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles originating in the city of Honolulu, Hawai’i: local incineration and trans-continental recycling. We first estimate total environmental impacts of two options using life cycle assessment, and then disaggregate them into local versus non-local impacts to examine the spatial distribution of costs and benefits. We further assess the environmental justification for localized waste management in relation to the broader socio-economic motivations that underlie the way that plastics are managed in Honolulu. In doing so we assess the scale at which waste management is optimized from an environmental standpoint as well as the non-environmental considerations such as security and safety that influence the politics of scale involved in urban metabolic design. By illustrating the trade-offs between a local versus global metabolic pathway for plastic waste, the results from our Honolulu case study are globally relevant for communities interested in sustainable urban design and in particular urban waste management.