Fearless Forecast

I'm not big on predicting the future. After all, even the wisest forecasters can be tripped up by unexpected events.

And when I make predictions, I don't like to put them in writing. There's always the chance that someone will find an old forecast and point out errors. Besides, oral predictions can easily be revised. I can deny mistakes and take credit for predicting what happened as long as there's no pesky paper trail.

My favorite example of the dangers of predicting the future involves a former officer of the trade association I work for. In 1990, he made five predictions about the future of solid waste in the '90s. They were all quite reasonable, and I would have made at least three of them myself. As it turned out, only one was correct, which only proves that even the best garbage minds can go astray.

However, despite inherent risks to my reputation, here are a few modest predictions for 2003.

Once again, an expanding population and a recovering economy guarantee that we will create more garbage. The recycling rate will continue to inch up, and so will the composting rate with major increases in food-waste composting.

California will pass e-waste recycling legislation. Last year, a coalition of environmental groups, local governments and haulers successfully lobbied for passage of a product responsibility bill only to see it vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis. He was re-elected and will sign legislation this year.

Michigan politicians will do everything they can to prevent Canadian garbage from being landfilled in their state. They also will do everything they can to ensure that their nuclear waste is shipped to Nevada for disposal, and they will not object to sending their hazardous waste to Canada for disposal. Nor will they insist that Michigan towns adopt a recycling and composting program as rigorous or expensive as Toronto's.

The EPA will continue to promote “pay-as-you-throw,” a system in which a generator's garbage bill is based on the amount of trash set out for collection. Despite the benefits of variable pricing, only a few communities will adopt this in 2003.

Budget crises will force local governments to make hard decisions about funding solid waste, education, and police and fire protection services. Recycling programs won't be eliminated. However, some of them will collect fewer kinds of materials and few, if any, will expand significantly.

Once again, many states will fail to meet their legislatively mandated recycling goals. Once again, no one will be punished.

The scrap company that won the contract to process plastic and metal collected for recycling in New York City will discover that the quality of recyclables placed on the curbside for “free” is considerably lower than the quality they receive from the customers who bring them recyclables for money.

Recycling will not be the subject of any Congressional hearings and will be the subject of only a few state hearings. E-waste will be the primary topic at the state level.

So there you have my brave predictions for 2003. I also predict that these will be recycled at the end of the year — but only if you live in a town with a mixed paper recycling program.

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

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]