Today I overheard two strangers talking about how much they hate all the excess packaging that comes on the products they buy. Wouldn't they be surprised to know they were subsidizing it with their tax dollars?
According to the US federal government (which tracks these things) packaging has increased 51% since 1980. And that understates the real impact. Consider how packaging has changed in the past 26 years.
You can fit 600 pounds of old-fashioned glass bottles and jars in a box one cubic yard in size. To handle a comparable weight in plastic bottles and jars, you need a box 16 times bigger. With the increase in packaging, that means we need a box 24 times bigger. Twenty-four times more garbage trucks, 24 times more landfill space... and that's just for the packaging. Throw-away products have increased 86% over the same period. Three times the rate of population growth.
The cost of dealing with all that waste falls squarely on local communities. It's up to us to build the landfills, finance the incinerators, and provide the convenient weekly collection to which we have all become accustomed.
But finance it we have. A report being circulated by Metro Vancouver reminds us that in our country $1.5 billion was spent by municipal governments in 2000 on solid waste management. That cost was offset by a mere $97 million in recycling revenues.
That's over $1.4 billion public dollars spent in a single year to subsidize the producers of excess packaging and throw-away products.
The companies that profit from these subsidies will be sending their big guns to Vancouver this week to participate in an invitation-only Packaging Symposium organized by Metro Vancouver.
They will be happy to hear about Metro Vancouver's draft waste management plan, which will give them a big boost.
The region's plan requires our municipal governments to spend more to recycle plastic packaging (even though there are no markets for the material). And the rest that can't be recycled? We'll build big burners and pump it up into the atmosphere.
Infrastructure that locks in waste.
(The report mentioned above was penned for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities by RIS, the Ontario consulting firm that works closely with the producers of throw-away products and packaging.)