March 23, 2010 | General


BioCycle March 2010, Vol. 51, No. 3, p. 17

Flaws In Commentary On Garbage In, Garbage Out
I authored Garbage In, Garbage Out: Solving the Problems with Long-Distance Trash Transport (2009, University of Virginia Press), reviewed in a Commentary by Neil Seldman (see “Flawed Thinking In Long Hauling Garbage,” January 2010). Neil’s comments misrepresented the book’s conclusions.
I am certainly pleased that the book is making its way into the hands of waste management experts. And I am heartened that Neil found the book to be “a detailed, extremely helpful discussion and analysis’ of the problems with long-distance trash transport.”
Unfortunately, Neil misstated the book’s conclusions. He writes: “She concludes that U.S. geography, law, and political culture should not and cannot abide by the proximity principle and should instead permanently rely on the long haul of waste.” He also says: “She suggests a national surcharge on landfilling and incineration of $5/ton to subsidize permanent long distance movement of waste throughout the U.S.”
Those statements are simply wrong. As implied by the book’s subtitle, I view long-distance trash transport as problematic, in part (but not only) because it violates the proximity principle. Thus I advocate adopting a version of the European Union’s (EU) proximity principle in the U.S. and I support state escalator taxes that would tax waste as a function of how far it travels. While I recommend a national tax on garbage, its purpose is to support environmental clean-up and waste diversion.
Neil said he wanted more details about local efforts to divert trash and about extended producer responsibility programs. I provide examples of aggressive waste diversion programs in the U.S. and describe the case of Flanders, Belgium, where authorities have achieved extraordinary success with waste diversion. Garbage In, Garbage Out talks about extended producer or product responsibility programs in the EU, Canada, and Japan.
But the book is not limited to those topics. Rather, it ranges broadly to include environmental justice, waste generation levels in the U.S., bills introduced in Congress, and court decisions. My goal is to examine the many ways in which trash transport reflects the exercise of economic and political power.
If Neil’s mistakes weren’t so egregious, a Letter to the Editor would suffice. But there are so many errors of commission and omission that I would like to provide an extended reply via a commentary. I will correct Neil’s misstatements and stress the book’s core themes.

Vivian E. Thomson, Associate Professor
Department of Environmental Sciences
Department of Politics
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia

Dr. Thomson’s Commentary will appear in the April 2010 issue. Garbage In, Garbage Out was named a Finalist in the Southern Environmental Law Center’s 2010 Reed writing contest.

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