Friday, April 27, 2012

Burn baby, burn

Fascinating look at trash and the emerging technology of “waste to energy” (WTE), converting methane from landfills into electrical power, or even burning all garbage, a process from the days of old that has been scorned over the last thirty years. But the technology has not stood still. New processes remove the toxic stuff, and the residue after burning can be used in the construction industry, making the process remarkably efficient.

But right now there are easier ways to reduce the 5-7 pounds of trash produced every day by the average American, which is twice the OECD average:

The main difference is that in Europe and elsewhere manufacturers, rather than consumers, are held responsible for the cost of processing the packaging used to wrap their goods. Thus, a tube of toothpaste comes without a cardboard box; a TV set without all the polystyrene packing.

It has always bothered me that toothpaste comes in a box. I suppose it reduces shipping costs by allowing for easier packing. But if the environmental costs of disposal were borne by the manufacturer (or the consumer), I suspect we’d see a more efficient process.

I would also argue that as taxpayers refuse to support better processes, like WTE, and to resist change, this cost is not borne by the consumer as the author suggests, but by future generations.  

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