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Solid waste disposal: the heat is on.

Municipal solid waste disposal is the most urgent concern of both elected officials and the public.

American business is quickly becoming the target of costly and punitive environmental regulation and oversight. The American public has voiced a dramatically heightened concern over the environmental quality of our air, water, and land areas. The public is now demanding that elected officials and regulators target and penalize the heaviest corporate polluters.

A sustainable and healthy environment is no longer the goal of a few "radical" elements in American society. It's fast becoming an integral part of our national agenda. This trend is not likely to abate.

In the absence of any substantive response to public concerns by the federal government, environmental proponents are increasing their pressure on local and state authorities to fill the vacuum left by Washington. Traditional mechanisms employed to influence legislation at the national level are fast becoming obsolete or ineffective as the battlefield moves from Congress to town halls and state capitols throughout America. It is becoming more difficult and significantly more expensive for business to influence the outcome of emerging environmental legislation at the state and local levels.

In this climate, U.S. business leaders are well advised to review their operations to identify potential problem areas, and to initiate internal programs which adequately address sources of pollution and solid waste volumes from both the industrial and manufacturing sectors (direct and indirect sources). Corporate leaders can no longer prevaricate on the decision to develop and maintain adequate internal audit systems to reduce pollution and to control the growth in solid waste volumes.

Business must not ignore these trends here and abroad. Nor can business sit back and accept targets and deadlines from government agencies which may have no practical application to certain businesses without a significant impact to the bottom line. The private sector must identify a common ground with which to work with government regulators and advocacy groups. The days of "who shot John?" are over. U.S. industry must provide the technical and managerial leadership to resolve outstanding conflicts that effectively address pollution and waste abatement that is financially realistic and viable over time.

Municipal solid waste disposal is the most immediate and urgent concern to both the public and elected officials. Waste disposal impacts both the quality of life and the cost of living index at the municipal level. Waste disposal has begun to hit the private citizen in his own pocket.

Solid waste disposal management has historically been a local rather than a federal responsibility. This worked well when landfills were plentiful and there was no public concern over contamination from landfill sites. Also, landfilling was the least expensive option for waste disposal until recently. However, the rapid decline in available landfill capacity over the past 10 years and the attendant increase in landfill costs have prompted a "green" rebellion in local communities across America.

Packaging Under Scrutiny

Product packaging in nondurables and durable product materials are coming under intense public scrutiny. Local communities are slowly coming to the realization that the benefits of convenience and disposability must be weighed against the waste generated and the impact these materials have on the costs to tax payers for local disposal. These communities are seeking guidance and financial assistance from state governments to manage solid waste disposal.

Landfills are no longer a viable or politically correct long-term option. Incineration is anathema to most communities despite its obvious benefits to adequately and efficiently manage growing waste volumes. Recycling has had limited success to date despite its popularity and general acceptance as the "preferable" waste-management option.

This sharp rise in local taxes to pay for waste disposal has done more in the past five years to make the general public aware about environmental oversight than 30 years of environmental advocacy activities. Major retailers have begun to feel the heat from local officials and their customers.

These very same elected officials are now beginning to seek financial recourse through advance disposal fees and other assessments directed to those businesses that are profiting from the proliferation in packaging and contributing to the growth in total municipal solid waste.

U.S. business may well find itself a hostage to this public backlash if it is not fully prepared to offer practical, scientifically based and economically sustainable counter proposals to assist municipalities and state authorities with their expanding waste disposal requirements.

Corporations must work quickly to identify: * What can be recovered for reuse in the manufacturing process; * What can be manufactured from "post-consumer" waste materials; * What can be reduced in weight and volume; and * How best can the private sector respond in order to stimulate secondary material collection and reuse within compatible industries.

Too Easy a Target

Corporate America can no longer ignore the growth in public environmental awareness and concern. Business interests must quickly put into place the controls and oversight necessary to ensure that U.S. business does not become so easy a target for growing public frustration and anger over the current inadequacies of municipal waste management.

By becoming proactive in corporate environmental stewardship, U.S. business should be able to minimize costs and protect its profit base over the long term. Most importantly, these activities can and should significantly reduce corporate liability for environmental damages in the future. Today, responsible corporate leadership must include the incorporation of environmental management into the strategic planning process.

Ted Donahue is President of Earth Wise Inc., New York, management and marketing consultants to corporations on environmental policy and strategic development.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Meeting the Environmental Challenge
Author:Donahue, Ted
Publication:Directors & Boards
Date:Jun 22, 1992
Previous Article:Green consumerism: the trend is your friend.
Next Article:Shareholders press environmental issues.

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