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England’s municipal waste regime: challenges and prospects

Gregson, Nicky and Foreman, Peter J. (2021) 'England’s municipal waste regime: challenges and prospects.', The geographical journal, 187 (3). pp. 214-226.


This paper provides a synthetic account of England’s municipal waste regime at the end of the 2010s, drawing on quantitative data (WasteDataFlow), a dataset of 1604 local authority waste management contracts and an archive assembled from publicly available minutes and papers of 125 (or ~40%) of England’s 348 local authorities. In technical-material terms, the regime, previously heavily dependent upon landfill, is now characterised by energy-fromwaste and recycling and/or composting in fairly equal measure. This infrastructural transformation, enacted over some 20 years, has been underpinned by the financialization and marketization of England’s municipal waste. Residual waste has been constituted as a financial asset whilst both residual waste and materials collected for recycling are the basis for further commodity production. The corporate landscape is dominated by large, European-based transnationals. As well as documenting the regime and its emergence, the paper highlights, and accounts for, the multiple challenges it now faces – chiefly, the technical failure of residual waste solutions which necessitate a continued reliance on landfill for some councils, the collapse of the export markets on which England’s resource recovery has depended, and a radically changed policy landscape that seeks to move England towards a more circular economy. It concludes by urging the need for a far ranging discussion of the role of local authorities in this new policy landscape, whose waste infrastructure, procured in response to a linear economy, is argued both to threaten, and be threatened by, these new policy directions.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© 2021 The Authors. The Geographical Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.
Date accepted:05 March 2021
Date deposited:06 October 2021
Date of first online publication:19 June 2021
Date first made open access:16 December 2020

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