The New Deal
I’m going to begin with a request…that if you have not already done so, go to page 8 and read SWANA Executive Director John Skinner’s Guest Editorial, “From Waste Management to Resource Management” first. Then come back here for some thoughts you may wish to consider.
OK, you’re back, so my addition to the discussion has to do with the ability of the public sector—particularly smaller, more remote systems—to meet the challenges and opportunities that are almost certain to arise in response to substantial changes both in management visions and practices.
Shifting to Sustainability
While at first glance the change from environmentalism to sustainability might seem to be little more than a morphing exercise—a tummy tuck on the economics frontier—I doubt that things will be so simple.
First off there’s parting from the way you’ve been doing things in the past. This, however, is a far cry from the resistance you’re apt to face from the holders of stranded investment—both philosophical as well as physical—whose practices have held sway in the fate of waste materials for more than a decade and whose reluctance to yield their dominance is likely to present a formidable obstacle to change.
This is already becoming apparent to many who have counted on a ready overseas market for a variety of materials lacking an onshore destination. In case you have yet to experience it, scrap plastic imports by China have fallen precipitously—up to 80% in some customs areas—since the end of August when officials began to enforce the newly minted regulation on solid waste imports to stem the flow of wastes piggybacking legitimate recyclable materials
The Emerging Marketplace
As you’ve seen in the past several years, the decrease in materials coming through your systems has had a negative impact on revenues and accordingly, the services you’re able to provide the public. “Well things are bound to get better someday,” you tell yourself, but will they and if so, by and for whom?
If your arena is a Los Angeles or Dallas or Kansas City, no big deal, but how about if your population base is half a million or so where sustainability—the transformation from waste to materials—may take on an entirely different face because the keys to success lie not only in the materials themselves, but your ability to process them economically?
“Well heck,” you say. “We can do that,” but can you when others—private waste or energy concerns for instance—approach the task regionally, drawing materials from an area 10 or perhaps 100 times the size of yours?
“Hmm,” you temporize, that’s a challenge for sure, but is that likely to happen any time in the near future? Nope, it’s happening right this very minute, as those who visit The Latest section on our website, www.mswmanagement.com, have seen. Whether we’re talking about technologies, processing facilities, or marketing organizations, they’re being developed or acquired as we speak for the express purpose of turning what were once waste materials into energy or other value-added resources.
“If my situation is as fraught with as much peril as you make it sound, what are my options?” you might well ask.
For many the situation is little different from that of vertical integration in the management of your waste…do you operate your own landfill, or do you pay to send it to someone else’s facility? Only now the question becomes, “Do I process the materials myself or ship them to someone whose size allows it to do so more efficiently and who has worked out the marketing details as well?”
Perhaps through contracting acumen you can come to a pretty good—maybe even profitable—solution involving the collection, transfer, and disposition of your materials. Or you might even consider directing all the materials within your jurisdiction to your own facility and see where that takes you.
Whatever the solution, however, you need to begin right now to assess your capabilities viewed in the light of sustainability, draw up your plans, and then act.
If you have already homed in on the situation, how about contacting me, firstname.lastname@example.org, with your thoughts, plans, and actions? MSW
Author's Bio: John Trotti is the Group Editor for Forester Media.
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