[GRRN] Collect 'em all & let industry sort 'em out -- Round 6

Bill Carter (bcarter0@flash.net)
Mon, 7 Jun 1999 00:50:51 -0500

Carol Slechta proposes making local waste authorities responsible for
providing a single home collection system for all potentially recyclable
materials, and taxing industry and commerce at all levels in proportion to
their respective contributions of unrecovered items/materials (a sort of
"waste-added" concept similar to "value-added" which is currently taxed).

The waste tax idea has been in circulation for a good while, and it has my
vote. The problem I have is with making local waste authorities
responsible for creating and operating a convenient, workable, all-purpose
home collection system to feed all possible materials back to industry.
The industrial/commercial interests will be sure to blame local authorities
for not delivering all their materials back to them in a condition that
they can use. Who will arbitrate these disputes and decide where local
waste systems have fallen short of their responsibilities? Who will judge
what a fair cost is for each local recovery program and how it should be
allocated between the residential garbage customers, commercial garbage
customers, and the industrial and commercial producers of the materials?

Carol wrote, "No, I don't see producers designing the system because that
involves a plethora of incompatible options." Well, you want to put local
authorities in the position of coming up with options that are mutually
compatible to all affected parties -- which are essentially the entire
private sector. This is the ultimate policy-making nightmare.

Carol wrote, "Since cities began, waste collection has always been a
centralized affair, a matter of gov't stewardship."

Waste collection, yes, as a management system for materials which are no
longer economically valued. Recycling, on the other hand, is almost
entirely a market function. Government (and the waste management industry)
got involved in this commodity market because of overwhelming public demand
and frustration with the absence of private-sector accommodation of that
demand. If we as a society decide to use taxes to return waste management
costs to the industrial/commercial producers of waste, we need to leave it
up to these producers to find the most cost-effective way to recover their
materials. If they don't make it convenient enough for people to return
their materials, then they pay higher taxes. This is exactly the kind of
function the market is designed to handle. Making government somehow
responsible for making the logistics work just sets the system up for
failure from the beginning.

All the best,

Bill Carter