Reviving the cap-and-trade system as a potential means to reduce corporate garbage production

By Email author - Mon, 08 Apr 2013 11:40:00 GMT
Reviving cap-and-trade to reduce corporate garbage production

Too many 'negative bi-products?' Let’s pump up the volume of recycling! - Earth imaage; Credit: © Shutterstock

Op-ed: Among the most obvious problems of carbon emissions and constant pollution is the prime environmental concern of garbage build-up. Often overlooked, the placement of potentially recyclable materials into landfills can easily turn into a problem that cannot be ignored. As garbage production becomes an increasing concern, solutions created to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, specifically "cap-and-trade," can be adapted to fit garbage removal.

The cap-and-trade system is based on implementing a "cap" on the units of negative by-products generated by companies and allowing them to "trade" their unused units to companies that overproduce. For garbage reduction these caps would be applied to large firms, especially those who manufacture goods. This system applies best to firms and not individuals as they produce a more predictable level of annual waste, and are easier to regulate through legislation.

A number of corporations have already been able to reduce their waste production acknowledging the long-term financial and ethical benefits. These companies, such as Anheuser-Busch, Pratt & Whitney and Subaru, have developed measures to reduce their potential waste production by isolating wasteful areas in their manufacturing. Many of these measures were developed by requesting different-sized sheet metal, or trimming fractions of an inch of metal off their products, and allow them to reduce the amount of materials needed and thus the capital spent on obtaining them.

These companies would be likely to promote the legislation of cap-and-trade as it would directly benefit them. They would receive extra revenue for their recycling success from other firms. This means that there is the potential for them to receive funds from firms that they directly compete with. There is also the indirect benefit of environmental "bragging rights". Consumers have become increasingly aware of environmentally friendly and green production. Companies who are able to produce their goods in with minimal waste can employ their successes in advertising campaigns that can further distance them from their competition.

Currently, individual states in the US are responsible for their non-hazardous waste through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which make legislation difficult to achieve nationally, but the cap-and-trade system could still work. In cap-and-trade, the national government will necessarily set the national cap on waste heading to landfills and manage the general enforcement, but it would be the state who would truly implement the regulation. Once in place, open market trading would do the rest to encourage the environmentally friendly corporate recycling polices.

The task of detailed regulation would fall to local garbage collection agencies. Both private and public garbage agencies would be tasked with measuring the levels each corporation produces to assist in determining the number of tradable credits. This would encourage garbage management agencies to make the transition towards an environmentally friendly business model and increase their recycling abilities. Corporations would ideally be decreasing their production of landfill waste and increasing their level of recyclable materials, and thus garbage agencies would need to adapt. This would encourage the creation of facilities designed to handle an increased flow in recycling.

Cap-and-trade would also create trickle-down effects beyond the garbage agencies. Once garbage collection companies have created more recycling facilities, local communities could benefit. People would be encouraged to reduce their own waste after seeing the renewed increase of their community. Cap-and-trade can also positively affect waste reduction in individuals from the corporate level as well. Companies like Subaru who have already embraced low landfill waste production, have noticed an increase in the recycling vigor of their employees.

Cap-and-trade does have the potential to reduce American reliance on landfills if fully implemented. The federal government needs to past the "cap" and states and their municipal waste collectors would apply the regulations. Ideally, if this system proves successful and reusing/recycling becomes the norm, the system could be dismantled. The risks involved are minimal; it just needs to become a topic of consideration.

Let's all start considering how we could implement it!

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Topics: Sustainability / Recycling / CO2 / Pollution