Actor-Network Theory on Waste Management: A University Case Study

Actor-Network Theory on Waste Management: A University Case Study

Sandra Méndez-Fajardo (Department of Civil Engineering, Javeriana University, Bogota, Colombia) and Rafael A. Gonzalez (Department of Systems Engineering, Javeriana University, Bogota, Colombia)
DOI: 10.4018/ijantti.2014100102


In developing countries, territorial planners are confronted with rapid urbanization and its inherent solid waste management (SWM) which has increased public health risks, and generated environmental and socio-economic problems too. To analyze these issues, a University campus (as a scaled city) was studied applying the Actor-Network Theory to find key elements to take into account for sustainable SWM programs not only in universities but also in cities. To achieve this goal, different actors and relationships between them were identified, as well as their dynamics throughout the SWM history. Some findings were that Environmental City's Authorities requirements have been the main cause of actions related to hazardous waste within the campus, while scholar's interests have initiated non-hazards. Otherwise, documents, operative committees, and scholars involved in milestones, have become as the main support for decision-makers. Researchers also verified that decision have not been made through systematic processes neither from a systems approach.
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1. Introduction

Environmental issues directly related to ineffective Solid Waste Management (SWM) have drawn the attention of researchers looking to analyze the operation of such systems on a global scale (Chang et al., 2011; Ciplak and Barton, 2012). Actions aimed at improving SWM practices, specifically those of developing countries, are negatively affected by resource scarcity, socio-economic inequality and excessive urbanization, among other cultural, social, political and economic aspects (Guerrero et al., 2013; Marshall and Farahbakhsh, 2013). Studies also show that in Developing Countries SWM decision-makers do not usually include these different dimensions (Achillas et al., 2013; Cheng et al., 2003; Karmperis et al., 2013). As a result, it becomes critical to employ a systems-based approach in order to overcome obstacles for achieving a successful SWM paradigm (Liu et al., 2011; Marshall and Farahbakhsh, 2013).

The main processes within SWM include generation, collection, recycling and final disposal. For the last stage, the most common technology in low-middle income countries is the sanitary landfill (Vergara and Tchobanoglous, 2012), where organics and inorganics are deposited, which increase greenhouse emissions (Gassara et al., 2011), as well as the risk of environmental pollution and public health impacts (Lang et al., 2007; Quaghebeur et al., 2013; Rabl et al., 2008).

Public education is usually excluded in the conception, planning, design, implementation and operation of SWM projects (Aini et al., 2002; Longe et al., 2009). In this regard, schools and universities can play a significant role by influencing environmental education and citizen responsibility (Armijo de Vega et al., 2008; Jain and Pant, 2010; Sobreiro and Jabbour, 2007). In addition, campuses can be considered as scale models of a city in all of its dimensions; civic behaviours that are practiced at schools and universities impact the context, culture and behaviour of not only students but also the greater educational community (Armijo de Vega et al., 2008, 2003; Bialowas et al., 2006; Jain and Pant, 2010; Maldonado, 2006). Waste generated on campuses can include ordinary, hazardous, foodservice, construction and demolition waste (CDW), e-waste and office and garden waste (Bialowas et al., 2006).

This research is carried out at in university campus as an exploratory single case study which is helpful to study current phenomena in a real world context (Maguire et al., 2010; Yin, 2003a, 2003b). This case is also embedded because it includes two units of analysis (Yin, 2003b) as follows: decision-making roles and operational roles within SWM structure in the campus. These units were analyzed for ordinary waste, hazardous waste, and WEEE (Waste of Electronic and Electrical Equipment). It is important to highlight that embedded single case studies are analytically generalizable to theoretical propositions (Krikke, 2011). As an exploratory case study, and in order to achieve that generalization to SWM systems, this research aims to answer the following questions: (i) Decisions about SWM in the campus have been made through systemic processes? (ii) Decision-makers have applied a systems approach in their decisions? (iii) Is there an organized operative structure for SWM in the campus?, and (iv) Which elements have triggered improvements in the SWM system in the campus?

Data about historical facts in the campus’ SWM from 2000 to 2013 were documented through three main methods: participant observation (Platt, 1983), structured interviews (Briones, 2003) and document analysis.

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