24. Hazardous Waste Disposal & Recycling

Medicines, batteries, motor oils, TVs, computers, monitors, fluorescent light bulbs, paints, pesticides and other hazardous wastes should be collected separately from all other waste streams. Businesses should be responsible for arranging their own proper hazardous waste collections. However, the collection of privately generated residential hazardous waste should either be collected by the government (by request of the generator when enough has been generated) or it should be a requirement of the generator to take the waste to an approved disposal location. For example, old medicines should be required to be accepted at any pharmacy that sells prescription medicines. Batteries should be required to be accepted by any location that sells batteries.

Deposits Paid Upon Purchase of Hazardous Waste
The ideal, economically pure way to fund such a program would be to have the generator pay for disposal at the moment of transfer from the generator into the disposal stream. However, a bit of knowledge about human nature indicates that a very significant number of people will choose to avoid such payments at the end of a product’s useful life and find other, namely incorrect ways for disposal. Therefore, it may be optimal to charge a deposit fee (as is done on many beverage containers) of a certain amount to cover all the costs for proper disposal (throughout the industry). The very, very great additional benefit of adopting this policy route would be that used batteries, for example, would now have a positive value at the end of their service life, meaning that there would would be an incentive for their extraction from the environment, as is the case with beverage containers today. Furthermore, there would be less resistance among both consumers and merchants to make this extra effort to deliver and accept old batteries because they would be able to collect some of the original deposit amount. Consumers would be allowed only a portion of their original deposit back so that merchants would be able to collect some of this deposit for themselves to enable this program to have the proper support. Perhaps there should be an option for consumers to be able to take their batteries directly to a hazardous waste processing site in order to receive more or all of their original deposit back.

An additional benefit of adopting this deposit-oriented approach is that the higher economic cost for each unit of hazardous material at the original point of sale would naturally reduce, at least somewhat, the demand, making this whole problem a little bit smaller.

This concept of charging a deposit for an item to prevent undesirable disposal down the line could be applied in other areas, as well. For example, cigarette butts may be another product that could be charged perhaps a 1 cent deposit (or more) on the butts, decreasing their improper disposal and definitely leading to an increased collection of butts from the roadways. Although it would be advisable to refrain from disrupting the natural economic order of things by imposing artificial (or improperly placed) price points that do not contribute to an accurate reflection of the true cost of the product or service, it can be convenient to do so. Sometimes, this convenience may be worth it because, as in this case for batteries, it may just not be feasible to increase the recycling rate otherwise. And since batteries are especially toxic, this ‘improper’ economic incentive may justify imposing this deposit.

As a last resort, perhaps each fire stations should be the default collection sites for household hazardous wastes. Of course, it would be ideal for people to take such wastes to a more appropriate locations as described above, but until such policies are in place, and to prevent its disposal in unauthorized ways, it would be beneficial to make it common knowledge to have all fire stations accept all such wastes.

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