Garbage: a goldmine for capitalism

We are all working harder through recycling to try to reduce the amount of garbage going wastefully to landfill.

But garbage is still growing and circling corporate vultures — supported by government — are hoping to make a killing out of the filth both here and in poorer countries.

Environment ministers from all states, territories and the federal government met in Adelaide on November 7. They heard that the amount of packaging thrown into landfill fell 19% from 2.4 million tonnes in 2003 to 1.9 million tonnes in 2007. The result was largely thanks to a 45% increase in recycling.

This reflects a 15-year-long rise in kerbside recycling, according to waste management consultant Peter Allan in the November 5 online Waste Management Environment journal. Unfortunately, during the same period total waste generation doubled.

The problem is that while ordinary people try to do the right thing, our capitalist economic system depends on ever-expanding sales of disposable items for its survival.

Marketing creates the illusion of choice within extremely limited parameters. For example, there are walls of different brands of toothpaste in shops and all of them are over packaged!

Advertising blitzes drive ridiculous things like the 40% increase in the floor area of Australian houses over the last 18 years, while the average number of people living in each house has reduced, and is predicted to drop another 15% in the next 25 years.

Government action against corporations is essential to stop the creation of garbage.

Unfortunately, the November 11 NSW mini budget points in the opposite direction. Treasurer Eric Roozendaal said that the state plans to sell NSW Waste Services, while at the same time raising and expanding the charges paid by local councils for disposing of waste.

Waste Services has a monopoly of garbage disposal in NSW. The Waste and Environment Levy is paid by councils for every tonne of rubbish that goes to landfill and is meant to fund community education and other waste reduction projects.

The levy is currently paid by councils in Sydney, the Hunter region, the Central Coast and Illawarra, but now Wollondilly and Blue Mountains local government area ratepayers, and coastal areas from the Hunter to the Queensland border will be paying as well.

By 2012 around $150 million will be collected and supposedly funnelled into "new or expanded environmental programs". But NSW has only budgeted to spend $10.5 million on these activities.

The rest of the money will "sweeten the deal" for SITA Environmental Solutions (associated with the French giant Suez Environment corporation) or Transpacific Industries, which are reportedly competing to buy Waste Services. The November 4 Inside Waste Weekly stated that spending "$300 million would potentially offer its buyer an (almost) instant monopoly in the Sydney waste disposal market".

Australia is not the only garbage market in corporate sights. OctoberFirst Consulting is organising a conference titled "Nigeria's Waste: Your Wealth" in Sydney next year.

There are close to one billion possible "customers" in Africa, OctoberFirst promises big business clients.

"Long years of neglect have created inadequate facilities and lack of technical expertise to combat the growing environmental issues", a July press release said.

Ethical Corporation, a British-based ethical investment publication, reported in November last year that huge shipments of e-waste end up in Nigeria. The UN Environment Program says 50 million tonnes of global e-waste finds its way to Africa under the guise of "charitable donations" each year.

Global capitalism is programmed to ruthlessly wring profit out of anything, even garbage. The old computer programming adage "garbage in/garbage out" applies to capitalism itself.

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