Over the past two decades, the protection of the environment has become the principal focus of public policymakers, often propelled by proscriptive diversion mandates that, in some cases, obscure or erase the benefits they were deemed to supply. But that’s where the challenge of sustainability is bringing about change. By its very nature, sustainability requires stewardship incorporating both societal benefits and recognition that activities in its name must be based on sound economic principles and practices.
The EPA began to adopt this vision into its outreach early in the millennium, recognizing waste management’s location within the materials management continuum. Now, new initiatives in the realm of energy-from-waste are springing to life, in some cases bypassing pilot programs in favor of full-blown commercial operations. But lest the pendulum swing too far from its present position, economics does not outweigh the social and environmental factors involved.
SWANA Executive Director and CEO John Skinner presented the public sector’s role in this emergent context several years back with a statement in response to the import of a recent study by NSWMA on public versus private cost comparisons:
“Solid waste management decisions must reflect community values and are therefore an essential prerogative of local government. Solid waste management is, first and foremost, strongly grounded in the need to protect public health, safeguard the environment, and conserve and recover material and energy resources.”
So the question before us now is, “How do we meet the challenge of sustainability in ways that truly reflect the public interests?”
Of course, the answer is, “There is no answer, only some principles to guide our discussions,” and even there we run out of real estate in a hurry. Nevertheless, allow me to offer three thoughts to set things in motion:
* We must search out and eliminate needless barriers within our own organizations.
* We must seek alliances with other departments, agencies; and people…particularly those we view as competitors
* We must look for ways to transition an increasing portion of what we view as today’s wastestream with what will become tomorrow’s value stream.
So, what are your thoughts on sustainability, and how can we at MSW Management, in either the printed magazine or its web-based counterpart, support your efforts? If you’re at WASTECON this next week, stop by our booth or latch onto me on the floor, and let’s chat.