Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Recycling economics

It's bad enough what comes out the back end of an incinerator ~ what goes in the front end is also a concern.

Seattle economist Jeffrey Morris has been warning public decision makers for decades not to invest in waste technologies that may have unanticipated opportunity costs down the line.

Here is a slide show he presented in Italy as part of a panel with Paul Connett and other American Zero Waste luminaries, as well as to a meeting in Quebec last month. Morris points to "the emerging framework" that should guide our waste processing investments:

1. GHG reductions likely imply smaller and lower Btu value disposal quantities
2. Higher energy prices likely imply higher prices for recycled materials
3. Natural resource depletion & ecosystems degradation likely provide push to replace virgin with recycled materials and to compost organics for use on farm land
4. Carbon constraints + high energy and commodity prices likely to create strong incentives for higher 3Rs levels.

Sean Mabberley, a local wood waste recycler, said the same thing to Metro Vancouver's Solid Waste Reference Panel last month. He called recycling commodity values a "moving ball" that could be rolling uphill even faster than energy prices.

Morris says to ask the snake-oil salesmen:
1)Who bears facility investment costs and risks of tonnage shortfalls?
2)Do tip fees vary directly with disposal tonnage, or is there some sort of put-or-pay guarantee?
3)How will tip fee commitments affect waste reduction, recycling & composting?
4)Who bears pollution risks & closure/post-closure costs for facilities (including ashfill)?
5)What will be the effects of climate change and higher energy & commodity prices?

Pic: Robert Neubecker in Slate

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