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Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead

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How our society uses materials is fundamental to many aspects of our economic and environmental future. If we want the US to be competitive in the world economy, the sustainable use of materials must be our goal. Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead suggests a roadmap for the future based on materials management—fulfilling human needs and prospering, which using less materials, reducing toxics and recovering more of the materials used.

EPA and the states are already doing considerable work along the lines recommended in the report—but taken as a whole, this strategy would be an important shift of emphasis from waste management to materials management. Materials management is focused on:

  1. Knowing and reducing the lifecycle impacts across the supply chain;
  2. Using less material inputs (reduce, reuse, recycle);
  3. Using less toxic and more renewable materials; and
  4. Considering whether services can be substituted for products.

Shifting to a materials management approach will refocus the way our economy uses and manages materials and products.

In 2002, EPA published Beyond RCRA: Waste and Materials Management in the Year 2020 – commonly referred to as the 2020 Vision. The 2020 Vision was the product of a state/EPA workgroup and was endorsed by EPA and state environmental and waste program officials. One of the key findings was the need for society to shift focus away from waste management toward materials management.

In January 2007 the directors of EPA’s waste and chemical programs convened the present 2020 Vision Workgroup to develop a roadmap to accelerate the move toward sustainable materials management. This report is a product of the EPA-State 2020 Vision Workgroup.

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Beyond RCRA: Prospects for Waste and Materials Management in the Year 2020 is a discussion paper which was developed jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies. It aims to open and inspire dialogue on what the future could hold for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) program in 20 years. The paper identifies a number of trends that could affect the future of waste and materials management, resource conservation, and human and environmental health. The paper also suggests certain general strategies and tools that might be used to build a new vision for the future of the RCRA program. While the paper is intended to stimulate thought and discussion about the future of RCRA, it is not a statement of any formal EPA or state agency policy.

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