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Finneran: Got Junk

Friday, June 08, 2018


Oh yeah, do we have junk.

A David Abel story in the Globe illustrates the challenges of public office.

There you are, a well-intentioned Mayor or Selectman, encouraging your constituents to expand their recycling efforts for the good of the planet. Recycling also helps you to keep your disposal costs down as you keep certain materials out of the waste stream and landfills. All that cardboard, paper, plastic, and tin can be put to additional uses rather than being buried in landfills or burned in incinerators.

So far so good Mr. Mayor.............

And then, on the other side of the world, China changes its rules on what it will accept and what degree of “purity” is now required in the tons of junk we export to them. China’s rejection of our trash—done in the name of environmental progress for themselves—has created a massive backlog and overflow at America’s recycling plants.

Those plants used to get paid a certain amount for the materials they shipped overseas. Call that “money-in” to the recycling company. Now, with the China market closed, those companies have to pay someone to haul those materials away to an American landfill. Call that “money-out” of the recycling company. This is not a sound business policy to bet on..........no money-in and lots of money out.

Two quick examples from the Globe story highlight the pitfalls for local officials—

The town of Rockland went from paying $ 3/ton to haul away their recycling waste to $ 70/ton today. The town of Abington went from paying nothing at all to haul away their recycling waste to $ 62/ton. Suffice it to say that those towns are not alone in feeling that they are caught in a vise.

A few thoughts on the conundrum:

Americans buy too much stuff.

We drown in clutter. Then, when we finally decide to de-clutter, we rent storage facilities to hold the clutter we should never have bought in the first place.

The cardboard account for Amazon must be a multi-billion dollar account. The sheer volume of cardboard packaging is unbelievable. So too the Styrofoam account. At least cardboard can be recycled. What on earth can you do with Styrofoam? I hate the stuff.................

Developers now talk of the urgent need to design a package holding room for the lobbies of apartment buildings and condominiums. You can imagine the lobby of a two hundred unit condominium at the end of the day.........it looks like a chaotic warehouse due to all the packages that have been delivered in any given day. It’s a cardboard minefield and it occurs day after day after day. Call it the Amazon jungle.

For many years, New York City burned its garbage on offshore barges, just pushing the resultant ash and residual remnants into the ocean. Totally gross.

More recently, the Japanese earthquake and resultant tsunami has carried a massive wave of junk---cars, refrigerators, washing machines, etc.---into and across the Pacific Ocean, creating the equivalent of an oceanic garbage dump. Once again, totally gross.

Since the Tylenol tampering incidents of several years ago, American packaging has become crazy. I often wonder how elderly folks ever get any package open.  From groceries to batteries, from bacon to flashlights, from razors to medicines, all the packaging seems designed to challenge the nation’s mastermind lock-pickers. You need to keep tools nearby just to open the ketchup!

Got junk?

We sure do. We’re drowning in it.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio


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