Societal shifts are driven by a variety of forces. Public health/safety measures, for example, tend to follow a “top down” approach, in which a regulatory body sets mandatory rules. Other shifts are “bottom up,” a result of persuasion and shifting community norms. As we take stock of our global sustainability problem, the enormity and necessity of societal and economic change is apparent. For one, our relationship to natural resources must mature. The linear model of consumption is dysfunctional. There is an imperative to shift to systems which do not perpetually require virgin resource inputs, and which also do not treat all outputs are waste; there is an imperative to shift to the circular economy.
And with this realization, the next question becomes, “How, exactly, are we to bring about this necessary transition?” Is it through mandates and regulations? Do we rely on voluntary changes? Incentives? Disincentives? Do we sit back and wait for “rock bottom”?
I propose that every single pathway at our disposal is necessary but not sufficient. A deliberate, multi-pathway approach is required: one that puts in play all of the tools, with each addressing that to which it is best fitted. Specifically, I will discuss the ways in which this array of mechanisms (regulations, public education, policy, commercial, etc.) must be deployed in relation to the case of advanced recycling. It is only with such full deployment and alignment of all available tools can we hope to rise to this next challenge of evolution: sustainability.