Government and Recycling International

"Avoided disposal costs" economics, which I helped pioneer in the 1970s and 1980s, has turned "toxic".

Normally, economically developed economies throw out more and more waste (garbage) as consumers gain confidence, buy new, and discard things of marginal value which take effort to maintain.  When your neighborhood is wealthy, no one wants your "free" black and white television, and it goes into an attic or basement or garage.

Hong Kong Modern Lined Landfill SE New Territories
As my generation became aware of population growth, finite resources, and habitat consumption, we were alarmed.  We wanted to save trees, to avoid mining, to save endangered species, preserve habitat, and conserve energy and carbon.  Recycling was a concrete, conservative, karma yoga way to do all of those things.

It seemed risky to say I'd get a job "recycling".   At the time, Recycling was akin to dishwashing. I didn't know anyone wealthy doing it (unless you counted the same mills switching to using virgin material according to price points).  The economics of making more money collecting scrap were at odds with providing the scrap more cheaply, which is what the Big Picture wanted.  Recycling needed to be plentiful and cheap to win over mill consumers, and not owning a mill, I was at the collection end of that equation.

"I work for the government, and I'm here to help":  When the federal government passed RCRA, the Resource Conservation Recovery Act in 1976, it set in motion a lot of funding and government jobs to manage waste disposal.    Bonds were issued (a form of government funding issued to states), for states to close older, obsolete solid waste landfills.
"Before the details of the new bond issue are decided, several important questions have to be answered. Most importantly, the federal government must determine the precise purpose for the issue. Often, it will relate to a specific capital project being planned by the government - a major new road or bridge, for example."  (
The reason for the RCRA funding was that the dumps were started without engineered clay membranes.   As moisture percolated through, the landfills were a threat to the water table, and needed to be capped (clay put on top so the water would stop seeping through them) and closed.  

But what mattered was that federal money was available for "municipal solid waste" (MSW) management jobs, in state, county, and city level.  Suddenly, there were MBA-pay level jobs to talk about recycling, plan about recycling, and bid for recycling services.

How I went from truck driver to consultant to Recycling Director for the State of Massachusetts, and what I learned on the way "up"...

To be continued....

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