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OPPORTUNITIES OF APPLYING SYSTEM ANALYSIS TO THE US WASTE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: BIO-INSPIRED SOLUTIONS FOR A MORE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
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This thesis focuses on the data collection needed for and the application of a systems-level analysis to the US waste management system. A systems approach, in combination with ecological network analysis techniques, enables the flows and structure of the US waste management network to be compared with naturally sustainable ecological food webs. This comparison highlights areas of potential improvement in the waste management system’s sustainability, uncovering biologically inspired network characteristics that shift its design closer to that of a true circular economy. Circular economy addresses issues caused by limited resources, by campaigning for their continuous circulation. This circulation is analogous to the primary function of the detritivores and decomposers-type species in ecological food webs, a keystone for the strength and sustainability of their ecosystems. End-of-life materials introduced to the waste management network correspond to the supply of detritus in a food web. This dead organic or low-quality material makes up a large percentage of the material flow in ecosystems and can only be processed by detritivores. Despite their importance, previous applications of ecosystem structure to human network design has demonstrated that even heavily advertised “sustainable” networks lack an equivalency to these species in the form of reuse and recycling. The tasks of this thesis analyze the overall design of the US waste management network, the detrital feedback streams provided through material recycling, and real-world waste movement based on facility information within the US. This research uncovers a hidden detrimental aspect of the current structure of the US waste management network, that it is organized to streamline materials to landfill disposal. Unlike the networks studied by ecologists, the waste management networks considered lack the material cycling needed to mimic the function of ecosystems, keeping them far from resembling any aspects of a circular economy. The results of the analyses are used to recommend changes to today’s waste management practices to shift its design towards a more sustainably functioning system.
Williams, Jewel Marie (2019). OPPORTUNITIES OF APPLYING SYSTEM ANALYSIS TO THE US WASTE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: BIO-INSPIRED SOLUTIONS FOR A MORE CIRCULAR ECONOMY. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from