Recession effect - less rubbish produced as people stop buying and start recycling

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Recession effect - less rubbish produced as people stop buying and start recycling

What a great side effect of the recession, people are throwing away far less waste than before, and more people are making do with what they have or buying second hand.

Thrift-driven Americans are fixing up, making do and reusing so much to cope with the recession that the drop in throwaways means less fill for landfills.

To deal with the drop-off in dropoffs, landfills are laying off workers, reducing hours of operation and hiking disposal fees, with the increases passed along to cities, businesses and consumers.

"You can look at waste and see what the economy is doing," said Tom Houck, manager at the Defiance County Landfill in northwest Ohio. He's watched the amount of trash arriving at the landfill plunge 30 percent in the past year.

With consumers cutting back on new purchases, there is less packaging to throw away. The downturn in new housing means less waste from construction materials such as insulation and from discarded drywall and lumber. Restaurant waste is down because people are eating out less.

"We're seeing this all over the country," said Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the National Solid Wastes Management Association.

Environmentalists applaud the trash slash.

"That will mean the landfills will last longer," said Ed Hopkins, director of the environmental quality program for the Sierra Club. "That is good for the public because nobody likes to live next to a landfill."

Hopkins said the reduction in waste is good for the environment because even modern landfills can leak, enabling pollutants to seep into groundwater.

Thom Metzger, spokesman for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, said that while national figures won't be available for months, the association is hearing about the decline from many members.

Landfills in Ohio received 15 percent less waste from August to January than they did for the same period a year earlier. The waste stream at Miramar Landfill near San Diego has dropped 35 percent over the past year. Waste at Puente Hills Landfill near Los Angeles is down from 12,500 tons of trash a day to about 8,500.

Waste Management's fourth-quarter profit slid 29 percent on declines in its recycling business and one-time charges. But in its earnings report, the Houston-based company also mentioned declines in the collection of industrial waste.

Landfill operators rely on disposal fees to fund operations. If the amount of waste decreases, operators have to cut costs, dip into reserve funds or increase the fees, which are passed along to consumers.

Potential trash is being sent to repair shops.

Louis Johnston, an economist at the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville, Minn., said that during good economic times people spend about 1 percent of their consumption budget on repairs. During recessions, that jumps to 5 percent.

At the Computer Zoo in the Dayton suburb of Miami Township, servicing of used computers is up 25 percent. And what normally was a customer wait of five to seven business days has become as long as 13.

"People don't have the kind of money to spend buying a new system when they can repair their old stuff for like half the cost," said Dan Seidl, purchasing manager.

People are shopping more at thrift stores but donating less.

Sales at the 2,220 Goodwill Industries International stores in the United States and Canada that have been open for at least a year were up 7.2 percent in February over February 2008.

"While the number of donors is increasing or remaining the same, we are seeing the two-bag donor now bringing in only one bag," said spokeswoman Lauren Lawson.

The Goodwill operation in Washington, D.C., has started appealing for donations in talks at schools, businesses and civic groups. It is sending trucks out to pick up donated items instead of waiting for the goods to be brought to stores or pickup points.

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By netchicken: posted on 28-4-2009

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