Deja Vu

Did you notice that when the ball dropped in New York's Times Square this year, the scene looked almost exactly like last year's? This also could be said about the garbage industry - the new year is looking a whole lot like the old one.

This being the "real" new millennium and all, you might think that some part of your job would be different. But as you look at your operation, watching the waste tide come in and go out, consider these few timeless truths.

- Whatever affects the waste stream affects you. For the past 20 years, politics, environmentalism, emotionality, legalities and good, old-fashioned money affected the solid waste stream. Don't expect this to be different in the next 20 years, either.

- We cannot manage solid waste by ourselves. Of course we need someone to hurl trash into the container or bring waste to the curb, but every community, business, industry and government must take some responsibility for managing their solid waste. Community members raising hell at every attempt to site or enlarge a facility or increase rates does not help to manage waste. Their energies could be better spent designing and manufacturing products for recycling or reuse, and buying products made from post-consumer solid waste. To be successful, waste management has to be a joint effort. For the most part, however, we remain stuck in the middle, trying to cope with the inadequate efforts of manufactures and consumers.

- Garbage in is not garbage out. The recycling movement proved this, and it has brought out the best in thousands, if not millions of Americans. I continue to be impressed with the scores of stories we run on successful recycling operations who reuse specific types of waste materials such as computers, office equipment and even medical supplies.

- Garbage is local. Like politics, no matter what is done to manage solid waste at higher levels, everyone in this business knows that garbage is local. (There might be other similarities between politics and garbage, too.)

- You will always have opposition. The collection and disposal of solid waste is inherently emotional. I'm not sure what planet protesters think garbage comes from. Maybe they think that when you take it away, you really take it away.

- This is more than a service industry. Unlike any other business, this industry does more than provide a service. Ours is a transportation, material handling, protector of the environment and public health, business. Service-providers, such as plumbers or electricians, go to your house or business, fix a problem, and then leave. In our case, we go to a house or business, and take the problem with us. Big difference.

As you can see, despite the new, official, millennium, the outlook for 2001 looks much the same as 2000. At least there shouldn't be any surprises.