A Moveable Beast

There's something flowing out there, but it's not milk or honey — it's garbage.

Following a decade of consolidations and landfill closings, the inevitable is happening: More garbage than ever is moving across America. Approximately 31 million tons of refuse, or 8 percent of the total waste generated in the United States, was exported by 47 states in 2000. Imports also have risen to more than 32 million tons, including shipments from Canada and Mexico.

These relatively small numbers represent significant increases, a tripling, in fact, from waste shipments in 1989, according to the recent Washington, D.C.-based National Solid Wastes Management Association study. The ramifications to this transportation trend, however, are just beginning to unfold.

For example, a publicly owned facility in New York currently is seeking an exception to the U.S Supreme Court's Carbone decision, and at least two other counties in the state are reportedly re-instituting flow control measures.

Clearly, the lines are being drawn in the new millennium's version of the trash wars. But keep in mind the battlefield has changed, too. The transportation growth spurt of the past 11 years is the result of at least three converging factors.

First, the government passed regulations that made landfills safer but costlier to own and operate. This resulted in about 4 out of 5 landfills closing in the past decade.

Second, private refuse firms began internalizing their waste, or at least discovered how to work within the newly developing waste transportation network.

And third, and possibly most important, nobody threw away less trash.

Like it or not, waste transportation has become the county's moveable beast, and I suggest we work together to determine the safest and most efficient way to find it a home away from home.

The author is the editorial director of Waste Age Publications.