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Garbage In, Garbage Out

Garbage In, Garbage Out: Solving the Problems with Long-Distance Trash Transport

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Garbage In, Garbage Out
    Book Description:

    Your garbage is going places you'd never imagine. What used to be sent to the local dump now may move hundreds of miles by truck and barge to its final resting place. Virtually all forms of pollution migrate, subjected to natural forces such as wind and water currents. The movement of garbage, however, is under human control. Its patterns of migration reveal much about power sharing among state, local, and national institutions, about the Constitution's protection of trash transport as a commercial activity, and about competing notions of social fairness. InGarbage In, Garbage Out,Vivian Thomson looks at Virginia's status as the second-largest importer of trash in the United States and uses it as a touchstone for exploring the many controversies around trash generation and disposal.

    Political conflicts over waste management have been felt at all levels of government. Local governments who want to manage their own trash have fought other local governments hosting huge landfills that depend on trash generated hundreds of miles away. State governments have tried to avoid becoming the dumping grounds for cities hundreds of miles away. The constitutional questions raised in these battles have kept interstate trash transport on Congress's agenda since the early 1990s. Whether the resulting legislative proposals actually address our most critical garbage-related problems, however, remains in question.

    Thomson sheds much-needed light on these problems. Within the context of increased interstate trash transport and the trend toward privatization of waste management, she examines the garbage issue from a number of perspectives--including the links between environmental justice and trash management, a critical evaluation of the theoretical and empirical relationship between economic growth and environmental improvement, and highlighting the ways in which waste management practices in the US differ from those in the European Union and Japan. Thomson then provides specific, substantive recommendations for our own policymakers.

    Everything eventually becomes trash. As we explore the long, often surprising, routes our garbage takes, we begin to understand that it is something more than a mere nuisance that regularly "disappears" from our curbside. Rather, trash generation and management reflect patterns of consumption, political choices over whether garbage is primarily pollution or commerce, the social distribution of environmental risk, and how our daily lives compare with those of our counterparts in other industrialized nations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2871-5
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION Everything Is Trash
    (pp. 1-10)

    Trash is an inherently contradictory material. On the one hand, it has attractive qualities, at least for some of us. Archaeologists delight in garbage because the cast-off things of peoples long gone tell us about how they lived and died. Kids and dogs paw through trash looking for fun, interesting, useful items, and discarded papers or photos can be a treasure trove of historical information.

    But trash is more than a potential fount of information: it is a fundamental indicator of life. Much as the acrid, black smoke emanating from industrial smokestacks used to mean that business was good, the...

  6. CHAPTER 1 All Garbage Is Local Trash Management in the United States
    (pp. 11-31)

    Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was fond of saying that “all politics is local.” With this pithy phrase Mr. O’Neill was conveying both an observation and a prescription. First, he was stressing that local and regional concerns are often key factors in national elections. And, second, he was observing that politicians must consider those concerns as they craft national policies.¹

    In a variant of Speaker O’Neill’s observation, we might also say that all garbage is local. Trash management is overwhelmingly under state and local control in the United States. As such, any analysis of municipal solid waste management in...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Waste Not, Want Not Are Americans the World’s Premier Waste Makers?
    (pp. 32-63)

    “Trash” is a relative concept.¹ The meaning of the term varies depending on the time and on the circumstances. Historian Susan Strasser demonstrates that through the late nineteenth century Americans evinced a strong attachment to the ideas of thrift and reuse. All classes embraced these notions, which were exemplified in New York City’s commitment to source reduction.²

    But in the early twentieth century, Americans became more inclined to discard goods rather than mend or recycle them. In effect, we came to perceive used items and food waste as unwanted, and, in so doing, we redefined our ideas about what constituted...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Costs and Benefits of Interstate Trash Transport Landfill Capacity, Schools, and Environmental Justice
    (pp. 64-90)

    The number of landfills in the United States has dropped dramatically in recent memory. According to EPA, in 1988 there were almost 8,000 landfills in the United States, but by 2006 that number had decreased to 1,754. The National Solid Waste Management Association estimates that there were 20,000 landfills in the 1970s, dropping to 2,800 in 1995 and remaining at about that level today.¹

    Whatever the exact numbers are, it is evident that many local landfills have closed over the past twenty years. Some of these facilities were environmental nightmares. Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island was especially notorious for...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Regulatory and Legislative Efforts to Limit the Movement of Trash
    (pp. 91-111)

    It should come as no surprise to learn that municipal governments like to manage where trash goes within their jurisdictions. Garbage presents health hazards and it is aesthetically displeasing. For more than a century municipal authorities have assumed responsibility for ensuring that trash removal takes place, either through public or private trash haulers, and they have also encouraged citizens to stop littering, through public campaigns and the threat of small fines. However, what might prove surprising is the sheer variety of ways in which governments at the state, local, and national level have tried to channel the movement of garbage...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Solving the Genuine Problems of Long-Distance Trash Transport
    (pp. 112-132)

    In the classic expression of the policymaking process, problems are identified and then the appropriate solutions are formulated. But, to adapt a wellknown expression to the policymaking world, many’s the slip between problem identification and policy solution. Sometimes the problems are incorrectly or imprecisely described. At other times the problems are properly identified, but the solutions proposed are either unwieldy or wrong-headed or, alternatively, they would cause unwanted or unintended consequences.

    In this final chapter I conclude that proposed legislation permitting states to constrain the interstate flow of trash into their jurisdictions fails to address the primary policy problems at...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 133-146)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-162)
  13. Index
    (pp. 163-173)