Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lowering Bay State's Garbage Mountain

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lowering Bay State's Garbage Mountain

Article excerpt

THERE'S too much showmanship in today's impassioned praise for recycling - an environmental moralism that skirts the practical problems of how to sort household trash and find markets for recycled materials.

To be sure, recycling promises much good. In Massachusetts, for instance, it can ease pressure on remaining landfills - many of which are expected to close within the next six years. But as important as recycling may be in reducing the amount of municipal waste, we should realize that recycling alone cannot solve the garbage problem.

More and more communities are learning that no recycling program can succeed unless recycled materials can be marketed. Just 17 percent of Massachusetts' garbage is being recycled now, yet buyers for recycled newspaper, glass, and plastic are already difficult to find. Other states have the same problem.

Ways must be found to reduce the amount of waste we produce, rather than trying to figure out what to do about it later. One approach: tax the production of bulky packaging materials that clog the waste stream. This would spur industry to cut excess packaging.

Another option: tax manufacturers who don't make maximum use of recycled materials. Such incentives are needed to ensure that businesses and consumers take full account of the cost to society of throw-away containers.

None of the changes needed will be easy or cheap. Even if we achieve the goal of reducing a state's garbage by 46 percent by the year 2000, as recommended in the Massachusetts' Solid Waste Management Plan, we will still have to deal with more than 6 million tons of garbage each year. How will we dispose of this at a cost that cities and towns can afford?

Some landfills in Massachusetts still have space, but the state's 155 landfills are nearing the limits of their capacity. By 1992, nearly three-quarters are expected to close.

People across the state strongly oppose locating new landfills near their neighborhoods, because of the mistaken notion landfills are unsafe. In fact, modern landfills can be designed to protect groundwater and not harm the environment. …

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