There are no short cuts: to solve a complex problem one must advance along a complex path. In fact, we suggest that the solution to exposure risk is built and put to practice by the ensemble of social values, of available technologies and of individual behaviors that contribute to make a path of risk reduction and management of residual risk shared by the highest number of involved actors.
This approach exposes the pivotal problem: effective solutions are built only while protecting the community as a whole. All the members of a community must be protected, not only the residents of fashionable neighborhoods. This theme cannot be confronted without being open about the fact that the siting of industries and of waste treatment plants has, up till now, generated discrimination: the risk has not been equally distributed. Poor nations and, within rich nations, poor areas, have been forced to cohabit with industrial plants, and the emissions and environmental loads associated with their operations. This originates a conflict which is rooted in social injustice and ratifies it.
In societies of old industrialisation, and now in emerging economies, the level of consumption has been so high for decades that the capability of the environment to regenerate itself has been deeply impaired and the availability of natural resources has been eroded. Thus to confront the consequences of our gigantic buying-throwing attitude and of the industries that support it, and to design solutions confronting the wastes problems in its completness, I suggest to adopt a METHOD and to put the decision on waste withing the borders of the discussion on science, on technological applications and on consumption levels.
To this aim we present different approaches, derived from different disciplines – from engineering to chemistry to sociology and anthropology – with whom environmental and social impacts of production and consumption have been confronted: we would like to overcome the mistake of keeping each single approach separated form the others.
We actually believe that the challenge, both for old industrialisation countries and for emerging economies, is to stand up to the consequences of industrial production and mass consumption with the recognition that technical, social and cultural aspects are inseparably fastened in risk representation and in the design of solutions.
But one method ranks higher than the others, because is the one that facilitates the dialog and makes explicit how decisions are made: it consist in describing the network of the actors that are involved in waste management. This description requires to select and connect the elements that influence waste generation, the concrete appearance of the consequences on the community, local and global environment, health, and that condition the search for solutions, both technical and social.
Selecting actors and their relationships helps understanding how final decisions have been made in the past and/or how could be changed in the present, this description clarifies what the different actors bring to the conflict and how they affect decisions. This method derives from ANT (the Actor Network Theory).
Moreover, we should always remember that for a wicked problem the DESCRIPTION is part of the solutions.