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any of you scientic people know if the statments below are true? I am working to get people to quit using styrofoam and use paper cups and plates instead. Naomi Should Some Goods Be Banned? Some have argued that we should simply ban certain products. For example, styrofoam cups have gotten a bad name because they take up more space in landfills than do paper hot-drink cups, and because the styrofoam remains in the landfill forever. Yet according to a widely-cited study by Martin B. Hockman of the University of Victoria, the manufacture of a paper cup consumes 36 times as much electricity and generates 580 times as much waste water as does the manufacture of a styrofoam cup. Moreover, as paper degrades underground, it releases methane, a "greenhouse gas" that contributes to warming the atmosphere. In a similar vein consider disposable diapers, which have been trashed by their opponents because a week's worth generates 22.2 pounds of post-use waste, while a
week's worth of reusable diapers generates only 0.24 pounds. Because disposable diapers already amount to 2 percent of the nation's solid waste, the edge clearly seems to go to reusable cloth diapers. Yet the use of reusable rather than disposable diapers consumes more than three times as many B.T.U.s of energy and generates ten times as much water pollution. It would seem that the trade-offs that are present when we talk about "goods" are just as prevalent when we discuss "bads" such as garbage. Some Adverse Effects of Government Regulation It also appears that more government regulation of the garbage business is likely to make things worse rather than better, as may be illustrated by the tale of two states: New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A number of years ago, to stop what was described as price-gouging by organized crime, New Jersey decided to regulate waste hauling and disposal as a public utility. Once the politicians got involved in the trash business, however,
politics very nearly destroyed the business of trash. According to Paul Kleindorfer of the University of Pennsylvania, political opposition to passing garbage disposal costs along to consumers effectively ended investment in landfills. In 1972 there were 331 landfills operating in New Jersey; by 1988 the number had fallen to 13, because the state-regulated fees payable to landfill operators simply didn't cover the rising costs of operation. Half of New Jersey's municipal solid waste is now exported to neighboring Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's situation provides a sharp contrast. The state does not regulate the deals that communities make with landfill and incinerator operators; the market takes care of matters instead. For example, despite the state's hands-off policy, "tipping fees" (the charges for disposing of garbage in landfills) are below the national average in Pennsylvania, effectively limited by competition between disposal facilities. The market seems to be
providing the right incentives; in one recent year, there were 31 pending applications to open landfills in Pennsylvania, but only 2 in New Jersey, despite the fact that New Jersey residents are paying the highest disposal rates in the country to ship garbage as far away as Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, and Alabama. The Role of the Marketplace Ultimately, there are two issues that must be solved when it comes to trash. First, what do we do with it once we have it? Second, how do we reduce the amount of it that we have? As hinted at by the Pennsylvania story, and illustrated further by developments elsewhere in the country, the market mechanism can answer both questions. The fact of the matter is that in many areas of the country, population densities are high and land is expensive. As a result, a large amount of trash is produced and it is expensive to dispose of locally. In contrast, there are some areas of the country where there are relatively few people around to
produce garbage, where land for disposal facilities is cheap, and where wide open spaces minimize the potential air pollution hazards associated with incinerators. The sensible thing to do, it would seem, is to have the states that produce most of the trash ship it to states where it can be most efficiently disposed of--for a price, of course. This is already being done to an extent, but residents of potential recipient states are (not surprisingly) concerned, lest they end up being the garbage capitals of the nation. Yet Wisconsin, which imports garbage from as far away as New Jersey, is demonstrating that it is possible to get rid of the trash without trashing the neighborhood. Landfill operators in Wisconsin are now required to send water table monitoring reports to neighbors, and to maintain the landfills for 40 years after closure. Operators also have guaranteed the value of neighboring homes to gain the permission of nearby residents, and in some cases even have
purchased homes to quiet neighbors' objections. These features all add to the cost of operating landfills, but as long as prospective customers are willing to pay the price and neighboring residents are satisfied with their protections--and so far these conditions appear to be satisfied--then it would seem tough to argue with the outcome. Some might still argue that it does not seem right for one community to be able to dump its trash elsewhere. Yet the flip side is this: Is it right to prevent communities from accepting the trash, if that is what they want? Consider Gillam County, Oregon (pop. 1800), which wanted Seattle's garbage so badly it fought Oregon state legislators' attempts to tax out-of-state trash coming into Oregon. Seattle's decision to use the Gillam County landfill will generate $1 million per year for the little community--some 25 percent of its annual budget, and enough to finance the operations of the county's largest school. Faced with the prospect
of paying to dispose of its garbage, Seattle quickly had to confront the problem of reducing the amount of trash its residents were generating. Its solution was to charge householders according to the amount they put out. Seattle thus began charging $13.50 per month for weekly pickup of one can, plus $9 for each additional can. Yard waste that has been separated for composting costs $2 per month, while paper, glass, and metal separated for recycling are hauled away at no charge. In the first year that per-can charges were imposed, the total tonnage that had to be buried fell by 22 percent. Voluntary recycling rose from 24 percent of waste to 36 percent--a rate almost triple the national average. By 1994, the "Seattle Stomp" (used to fit more trash into a can) had become a regular source of exercise, and the city was having trouble exporting enough garbage to fulfill its contract with Gillam County. The message slowly beginning to emerge across the country then, is that
garbage really is not different from the things we consume in the course of producing it. As long as the trashman is paid, he will come, and as long as we must pay for his services, his burden will be bearable.
Water is a human right, don't privatize or bottle it.
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