The Sanitation Seer

Fearless legislative forecasts for the new year.

2007 was an odd legislative year for the solid waste and recycling industry. The number of bills introduced into state legislatures was up significantly from previous years. The number of bills passed, however, was only slightly higher than last year. I guess this means that state legislators decided they get better publicity by introducing “green” bills than by passing them.

E-waste was easily the most prominent issue at the state level. In 2007, five states passed e-waste recycling laws. They joined the four states with similar laws already on the books. With California and Texas among these nine states, more than a quarter of Americans live in states requiring e-waste recycling. California requires consumers to pay an advance recycling fee when they buy certain electronics products. The other states use various methods to make manufacturers “responsible” for recycling their products.

The state legislation already in place increases the pressure on Congress to pass a nationwide e-waste recycling law. However, Congress will not act until the electronics industry, its retailers and environmental groups reach a consensus on that legislation. Until that happens, expect two or three more states to pass e-waste recycling laws in 2008 while Congress holds hearings on what federal legislation should be.

E-waste supplied my favorite quote of 2007 when one pro-recycling group insisted that television recycling should be free. Given a choice, I think most of us would rather get our television for free and pay for recycling.

High prices for scrap metal lead to many incidents of metal theft, including copper gutters, utility poles and even sculptures. As a result, many state legislators grappled with ways to catch metal thieves without encumbering scrap metal recyclers with overly complex paperwork or holding requirements.

Trash taxes were a contentious issue, with two states enacting new trash taxes and three states rejecting them. The downturn in housing sales could lead some cash-strapped states to look at trash taxes in 2008. Housing sales provide a disproportionate impact on state revenues due to the taxes paid when houses are sold and the sales taxes paid on the furnishings needed for new houses. Although legislators will piously argue that the money will be used for recycling, don't trust them. State legislatures are notorious for diverting “guaranteed” recycling funds into other programs.

Congress showed little interest in solid waste, with the notable exception of waste transfer stations located at railyards. A loophole in federal law prevents state governments from permitting those facilities. In response to a growing number of these unregulated transfer stations in Northeastern states, the House of Representatives approved legislation to close this loophole. The Senate will have the final say this year.

Recycling may be part of climate change legislation. A bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner designates increased recycling as one small but effective way to lower greenhouse gas emissions. While this bill is unlikely to pass both houses in 2008, the inclusion of recycling is a small but significant victory for recyclers.

As always, I have one warning about these forecasts. As a consulting company once said, “since the estimated operating results are based on estimates and assumptions, which are subject to uncertainty and variation, we do not represent them as results that will actually be achieved.” Let the reader beware!

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: [email protected].

The columnist is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.