Waste Minimization in the United States
Waste Minimization in Environmental Law
Although reducing and controlling the discharge of pollution has been the method of regulation adopted in the major environmental laws, another option is more attractive: waste minimization.
After waste products are treated at the end of the manufacturing process, they must be disposed of. Environmental statutes and regulations specify the ways waste may be disposed. But by streamlining processes, businesses may be able to reduce the amount of resulting waste. This reduction benefits not only the environment, but also the business, which has less waste to manage. If the waste is hazardous, the price of disposal will be greatly reduced, because all costs for hazardous waste handling, transportation and disposal are high, and future liability for cleanup will remain as long as the generator of the waste exists.
Waste can be minimized in several ways: reducing the amount of raw products introduced in the system, selecting more efficient technology, using fewer toxic or hazardous components in the system, increasing the amount of recycled goods used in manufactured products, recycling waste, and treating spent materials so they can be reused within the system in which they were created. The end result, a reduction in the amount of waste produced, is good for all of us.
Recycling is an effective way to reduce waste. In many jurisdictions, it is not optional. Particularly in states and cities where land is hard to find, new landfills simply cannot be built after the old landfills close. When a state runs out of room for waste, it turns to other states for assistance, but the citizens in the receiving states usually do not appreciate being a dumping ground.
Thus disposal of waste has become a difficult political and social issue. No one wants a landfill in his or her community. In fact, the citizens’ rallying cry “Not in my backyard!” has become so common it has earned an acronym: NIMBY. Proposed incineration sites have been strongly opposed by communities in the past few years, and industrial and hazardous waste sites are extremely unpopular.
Even if the discussion is limited to nontoxic domestic waste, we clearly have no room to continue disposing at the rate we have in the past. One answer is reducing waste at the source. For the average consumer, this means selecting products with less packaging, rejecting products if the products themselves or their packaging are not earth friendly, recycling, and buying recycled goods.
Recycling has become a popular solution. But for recycling to work, a complete loop must be created. The goods have to be made of recyclable products, people must deliver the recyclable component, a recycler must process the product, then it must be incorporated into new goods. Finally, the consumer must select recycled goods in sufficient amounts to establish and sustain a market.
The direct advantages of recycling include keeping the product from becoming a waste and reducing the volume of virgin resources needed. However, the indirect effect is also important. If fewer new products have to be manufactured from raw materials, production wastes should shrink.
To encourage reduction in packaging, Germany requires producers of products to accept packaging it creates. The consumer simply brings the packaging back to the seller. This procedure encourages manufacturers to reduce volume of waste and returns the packaging to those most able to reuse it.
Based on “Environment and the Law. A Dictionary”.