Fearless Forecast

I'M NOT BIG ON predicting the future. If I were, I'd make my living at the racetrack. But because January 22 marked the beginning of a new year (4701 on the Chinese calendar) I guess I should make a few predictions for garbage and recycling in the year of the monkey.

Looking back on this past year's predictions, I'm delighted to say that all of them were accurate. I'm not sure if that's because I'm a good futurist or just made easy picks. How could I go wrong, for instance, predicting that Michigan politicians would do anything to prevent Canadian garbage from being landfilled in their state, while ensuring that their nuclear waste was shipped to Nevada and their hazardous waste was shipped to Canada? They'll do it again this year, too. You just can't go wrong predicting that politicians will be politicians.

Nor was I surprised that we made more garbage in 2003 (more people always equals more garbage) and that former California governor Gray Davis signed the e-waste legislation that he vetoed in 2002. His change of heart, however, wasn't enough to keep him from being terminated — can't say that I predicted that one.

I was right about budget crises forcing local governments to make hard funding choices. I also was right that recycling programs, for the most part, would not be eliminated. I don't expect many to be sidelined this year either. Once again, however, recycling advocates will have to work hard shoring up political support for their programs. And I was right that recycling raised little legislative interest at either the federal or state level in 2003. It won't this year either.

But what about 2004? This could be the year that the National Recycling Coalition gets its act together. The NRC probably will continue to be plagued by the normal problems inherent in getting a coalition of diverse interests to agree on policy. However, the NRC-sponsored initiatives, which include a computer recycling program with Dell Computers, the ReMIX magazine recycling project with Time and the Reuse-a-Shoe campaign with Nike, will all do more to promote recycling than most pieces of legislation. NRC's glass recycling project and the Beverage Packaging Environmental Council's work are two additional highly creative endeavors that could increase recycling and lower costs.

Solid waste haulers will continue to battle attempts by state and local governments to use them as tax collectors. Many politicians look at garbage as an easy hit and will propose fees and taxes on garbage services to raise money for other public programs. Local businesses and residents will join haulers in opposition to these new taxes. Why? Because they know that they, not hauling companies, pay the taxes.

What else? We'll make more garbage in 2004 than in 2003, and recycling and composting rates will rise slightly. New landfills will be sited, but only after considerable effort. Single stream collection will expand, as will food waste collection.

So there you have it. My brave predictions. And once again, I forecast they will be recycled at the end of the year — but only if you live in a town that recycles magazines.

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.