After privatisation, refuse dump problems disappeared

Many Americans will recall television-news images of a lonely garbage barge plying up and down the East Coast looking for a place to unload New York's garbage. That was in the 1980s.

But they don’t hear about the "landfill crisis" anymore. That's because solid-waste disposal has been largely privatised and there is more landfill space than ever before.

Here is what happened:

  • In 1976, federal regulations intended to minimise the environmental impact of landfill operations resulted in rising landfill costs and the closure of :"unfit" sites - mostly small, government-owned landfills.

  • The dramatic increase in capital and operating costs of solid-waste disposal made larger, regional megafills more cost-effective and spurred privatisation.

  • A recent survey shows that 17 of the America’s 30 largest cities have privatised their landfills, while another two contract out landfill operations.

  • The consulting firm R. W. Beck reports that 27 percent of municipalities with populations greater than 100,000 are considering privatising their landfills.

    But opponents of privatisation are out to block that trend. A handful of governors are pushing Congress to enact so-called "flow controls" - which would place limitations on interstate refuse-hauling.

    Cities and counties around America rely on importing and exporting refuse - often utilising the private sector. In fact, 49 states export municipal solid waste and 45 states import it. Since 1990, interstate shipments of waste have increased 30 percent - and real disposal costs have fallen.

    Source: Geoffrey F. Segal (Reason Public Policy Institute), Government Mess: Private Sector Is Cleaning Up After '80s Garbage Crisis, Investor's Business Daily, September 12, 2000; Geoffrey Segal and Adrian Moore, Privatizing Landfills: Market Solutions for Solid-waste Disposal," Policy Study No. 267, May 2000, Reason Public Policy Institute, 3415 S. Sepulveda Boulevard , Suite 400, Los Angeles, California, 90034, (310) 391- 2245.

    For RPPI landfill study

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