Thursday, July 13, 2006

Zero Waste? Not in the Municipal Bureaucracy

In yesterday's Crain's In$ider the newsletter reported that a coalition of "commercial, environmental and consumer groups" were winning support for their "zero waste" program through their support of the city's SWMP. The program features a full panoply of waste reduction strategies as well as the creation of a separate office of waste prevention that would include "direct education to inform communities about recycling."

While we do disagree with a good deal of what the "Reaching For Zero" report outlines, there are aspects of the proposal that are meritorious. In particular, the report states clearly that it is not prudent for the city to continue its open-ended expense of simply exporting garbage to other jurisdictions. The costs it is rightfully argued are "primarily the result of increasing costs of landfills and believed to be at least partly due to the increased consolidation in the waste industry, leaving a few companies controlling most disposal facilities."

The Zero authors also correctly point out that these escalating costs are "clearly untenable for the long term." In place of the never ending landfill future, however, zero wasters propose a comprehensive waste reduction program that would establish a command recycling economy with a fully staffed government bureaucracy to run it.

In addition, they propose a far-reaching composting for food waste that exposes the impractical nature of the authors' mindset. They also outline new legal strictures to insure that the private sector follows government mandated recycling standards. As part of the composting plan they envision the distribution of 50,000 "backyard bins" and a "public task force" to advise the city on "compost facility siting."

The coalition of groups behind the zero waste plan do not have anyone with any real knowledge of basic economics nor is there any visible public policy expertise that analyzes the costs and benefits of such a massive government controlled waste reduction structure.

The plan is also fraught with danger for the city's retail businesses who will be subject to the whims of people whose backgrounds indicate that they are at best indifferent and at worse hostile to the concerns of the city's private sector. The exclusion of any discussion of commercial food waste disposers, and the advocacy of the "bigger better bottle bill," only underscores this indifference and hostility.

The City of New York drastically needs to devise alternatives to exporting and landfilling its waste. The "Reaching for Zero" coalition offers a retrograde and expensive alternative that, while failing to really get to the root of effective waste reduction, will set in motion a government bureaucracy that will wreck havoc on the city's commercial sector.