The trend toward a higher resource efficiency and a dematerialization of goods and systems will further increase the economic woes of the base-material production and recycling sectors, because demand and prices of many materials will continue to fall.
The situation in many developing countries, however, is radically different. These countries will continue to experience a strong demand for basic materials for the construction of their infrastructures and will continuously suffer from a shortage of affordable resources and goods, including food, shelter, and infrastructure and services for health and education. Transfering the surplus goods and materials of good quality and appropriate technology from industrialized to developing countries may be a solution to both problems.
Several changes in how we think about economics are necessary for understanding a "life after waste" industrialized society. A critical change is to shift to a service (cycle) economy (Table 1) (Giarini and Stahel, 1989/1993). Cycles have no beginning and no end. Economically, the most interesting part of the cycle and new focal point is the stock of existing goods in the market. Economic well-being is then no longer measured by exchange value and GNP, but by the use value of a product and the wealth presented by the stock of existing goods.
Long-term ownership of goods becomes the key to the long-term (rental) income of successful companies, and with that ownership comes unlimited product responsibility. Strategies of selling the use of goods instead of the goods themselves (e.g., Xerox selling customer satisfaction) and providing incentives to customers to return goods to manufacturers become keys to long-term corporate success. The adaptability of existing and future goods to changes in users' needs (for rentable products) and to technological progress (to keep them current with technological progress) becomes the new challenge for designers and engineers. The economic structure must maximize the return from these new resources (many existing goods in a dispersed market). An adaptation of today's economic, legal, and tax structures to these new requirements may be a precondition for countries to attract and breed successful economic players for a sustainable functional society.
Several multinational companies such as Schindler and Xerox have already started to successfully implement these new strategies. Schindler sells "carefree vertical transport" instead of elevators, a strategy that provides all the services needed by customers (i.e., maintenance, remanufacturing, and technological updating of the hardware). In addition, there is a telephone connection linking every elevator 24 hours a day to a centralized emergency service center. In collaboration with the decentralized maintenance crews of the seller, this system ensures that no person ever gets stuck for more than a few minutes in a elevator that has stopped functioning.