I'M NOT BIG ON PREDICTING THE FUTURE. After all, even the smartest futurologists fail to predict the unexpected. However, I am staring at my deadline, and I'm feeling particularly full of hubris today. So, here are a few things to look for in 2005 and beyond. Remember, you heard it here first (except for the wrong calls).

Container deposits will receive more attention than normal. This renewed interest is a response to declining PET and aluminum recycling rates. Look for states whose container deposits do not cover all beverages to extend the deposit to those beverages (except for that sacred cow, milk). Ontario may finally join the other Canadian provinces that have bottle deposits. Ontario will be prompted less by environmental concerns than the need to counter Michigan's disposal ban on deposit containers. Michigan may even decide to use unclaimed deposits to help fund other recycling programs. This money currently goes into the black hole of the state's general fund.

Redemption problems in Hawaii and Iowa will heat up the debate. Hawaiians began paying deposits last November, but they could not redeem them until January. No one should have been surprised by how many bottles and cans could be saved up in two months. However, the state failed to create enough redemption centers. In Iowa, two large grocery store chains announced they don't want to redeem deposits anymore and that customers should take the bottles to nearby redemption centers (a legal option in the Hawkeye state). Deposit advocates are upset, but the Speaker of the Iowa House is sympathetic to the grocers, noting that he worked in a grocery store as a teenager.

Also, some current deposit states may seriously look at increasing the deposit. A nickel deposit may have meant something 30 years ago, but it means a lot less today.

What else? Mills using old paper to make new printing and writing paper will have a more difficult time finding supplies of recyclable office paper. Mixed paper recycling and single-stream collection offer many recycling benefits, but they also make it more difficult to create a good office pack for mills.

Food waste recycling will get more attention, especially as positive results come from aggressive programs in San Francisco and Toronto.

Of course, I should make a no-brainer, never-lose prediction: Michigan politicians will do everything they can to prevent out-of-state garbage from entering Michigan landfills. They also will fight to ensure that no barriers exist to keep Michigan-generated hazardous, medical and radioactive wastes in that state. Hey, you can always trust politicians to be politicians.

Finally, for a long-term prediction, sooner or later, OSHA will release its “voluntary” ergonomics guidelines for trucking. Garbage and recycling are trucking industries. These guidelines will accelerate the trend of moving to automated and semi-automated collection. As a result, we will see an even bigger push for single-stream collection.

I have one final caveat for these predictions. A consulting company prefaced a recent study with the following comment:“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.” Reader be warned!

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of 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.