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March 17, 2009


David Biddle

Joel, You've hit on a couple dirty little secrets of the waste world. First is that numbers are always highly suspicious -- both on a state level and a national level. Never believe anything you read unless you can see some form of the raw data and a research methodology has been attached. We need a national waste data bank and forensic accounts overseeing it. EPA knows this but we've sort of had the wrong administration in place for the past 8 years to address the problem.

Second, and most important, those of us in the recycling world have been trying to get folks to pay attention to the fact that MSW disposal is end of the pipe. The real problems are all upstream and they start with mining, timber, petroleum refining and agribusiness. A good place to start understanding this second issue out is http://stoptrashingtheclimate.org Check it out.

Justin Lehrer

Great piece. Data is a huge issue. Recycling the detritus of consumer goods and services has always been at the bottom of the 3Rs waste hierarchy, yet it receives the lion's share of resources and attention. Recycling is the tip of the iceberg; the bulk of the ice (waste in this case) resides below the surface. Reducing waste at its source holds potential for much greater impact.

We need to focus our attention upstream. When companies see the incredible cost associated with inefficiencies in their operations and supply chain, they often take swift action to address them, reducing waste at the source. And this has a much greater impact on GNT than increasing diversion rates.

I think consumer-oriented recycling programs are seen as desirable because of their high visibility more so than their actual impact, though they are still important and lead to behavior change.

Could there be an analog to this in business-to-consumer (B2C) vs B2B business models? Seems like B2C can be higher profile, but some of the biggest opportunities for impact are on the B2B side.

Mark Simon

Joel, You are right...we need to get good data. However, I think another possibility for the huge reduction in U.S. industrial trash is the outsourcing of so much manufacturing to other countries in the 15 year timeframe (1992 - 2007) you cited. An interesting set of data would be the trends in the global trash of industries and municipalities during that period.

Thresa Whtie

Hear-no-evil, See-no-evi!"
As you rightly point out Joel, by stirring the masses to focus on their mundane daily junk and making us feel good for separating our paper from plastic, diverts from CSR. For more than 40 years there have been small whispers trying to be heard over the roar of corporates, connecting human cancer and environmental contamination from pesticides, plastic and chemical manufacturing and effluents from the pulp and paper mills. For 20 years the lonely voice of Susie Hewson the founder of Natracare has focussed on highlighting these issues, particularly chlorine bleaches, rayon and crude oil plastics used in conventional feminine hygiene and baby diapers, much to the chagrin of the very same industries creating the problem in the first place! Data will only verify what we already know - environmental contamination upstream, affects all of us downstream!

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