Let that sink in for a moment while I don my unobtainium armor in preparation for the slings and arrows that are sure to follow.
Ready? I’ll start with a short list of reasons for my curmudgeonly pronouncement:
1. Unlike those in the business, the public sees no waste crises looming. After all, gate receipts, reasonable customer service fees, and subsidies have managed to keep the wolves at bay.
2. For the bulk of our populace, not only has the economy shown little in the way of recovery, but many—based on their own household experiences—are beginning to question whether creating more debt will change things for the better.
3. Foreign markets are increasingly cautious in their acceptance of US wastes…er…recyclables.
4. For all the time and effort invested in the situation, some question the value of residential recycling programs for which little or no local processing capabilities exist to prepare materials for reintroduction into the production side of the equation.
5. Midterm elections, accompanied by the looming hyperbole in preparation for the 2016 super-duper bowl, will focus attention on issues well outside the realm of waste management.
We all could list dozens more, none of which is a door-slammer to the way we deal with waste today. Hidden from view, however, is how we intend to deal with the foundational issues on whose behalf we labor: health and safety. I mean, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Not racking up brownie points for materials kept out of landfills, providing kindergartners with forgettable sound bites, or funneling funding into special interest groups.
When all is said and done, the waste industry is the backbone of environmental protection…the platform on which all other efforts are based. We’re not about recycling or making power or any of the 93 or so items in the Integrated Waste Management System list of goods. We’re the real deal, and until we accept the challenge and begin to act accordingly, we are not going to take charge of waste’s new normal, much less forge the foundational stewardship that realizes that health and safety is a heck of a lot more than picking stuff up at the curb and whisking it away to never-never land.
It really is time to look at where we want to be in 20 years, so we need to get confrontational with one another now before we forfeit the opportunity to guide things along sustainable paths.