Trash Diet

As just about everyone in the garbage biz knows, New York City has unique problems with its trash. The Big Apple generates more garbage than any other American city, and its garbage seems to generate more antagonism than anyone else's. Trash can be a headache, but for New York City, it is a migraine. In an attempt to help out, The New York Times recently ran “Trouble with Trash,” an editorial about managing the city's garbage.

Starting with disposal, The Times rejected waste-to-energy on the grounds that “experts” say incinerators create “tons of toxic residue.” Then, The Times advocated reopening the Fresh Kills Landfill. Unfortunately, the editorial neglected to mention that Fresh Kills is an unlined dump in a wetland and does not meet the EPA's requirements for an operating permit.

In its 750-word editorial, The Times had plenty of advice on how citizens and other businesses could go on a “trash diet.” It advocated expanding the beverage container deposit to include noncarbonated beverages, encouraged food composting and yard waste composting in neighborhoods with lawns, and said manufacturers should use less packaging.

In fact, The Times had advice for everyone except itself. Either it doesn't need to do anything to reduce its own waste, or it ran out of space before it could tell us what it was willing to do. To help the newspaper with its trash diet, I have a few modest proposals.

Let's start with the bottle deposit. Have you ever noticed how newspapers are happy to encourage deposits on bottles, but not on their own product? Why not? More newspapers are thrown away than beverage containers. If a deposit is good enough for beverage containers, it should be good enough for newspapers. I'm sure a nickel deposit on The Times will help increase its recycling rate in New York City, and it will help keep newspaper litter off the streets.

Or perhaps The Times could help build recycling markets by using 100 percent post consumer newsprint. We all know that the recycling loop needs to be closed. What better way to show support for recycling than by using a recycled product to the maximum extent? The newspaper also could use recycled content in the plastic bags carriers use for home delivery.

If the newspaper is really serious about going on a trash diet, it should stop using paper and shift entirely to an online edition. Just think how many trees that will save! Whole forests have been known to panic when they think about The Times' Sunday edition. Paper editions of newspapers will eventually be replaced by online editions. So why not lead the way into the future?

I know, some of you are saying the last suggestion goes too far — paper is an essential information medium. But remember, when Guttenberg invented movable type, people who could read said the same thing to him about vellum. Just as the reading public switched to paper in the Middle Ages, we can do the same by moving to computers. The less paper society is closer than we think. The New York Times can take a bold leap into zero waste and stop using paper. Now that would be an impressive diet!

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]