Who is accountable for waste?

A general opinion is that the polluter should pay for any waste generated. But looking at the supply chain even that may be quite unclear sometimes. As long as we talk about separation of waste and recycling friendly collection consumers may play an important role. Although they usually do not have a choice on what they buy into their households, they have to pay for all of the waste management cost. So one could assume that being the party to pay, they own it.

Of course nobody wants to be held responsible for doing the right things with it and therefore this task is usually entrusted to local government authorities, organizing the collection, treatment and handling of the final residues, paid by the local population through various cost socialization schemes, making direct traceability of what’s being paid for what impossible to the paying population. Communities not following up their responsibilities for hygiene and tidying up waste might be confronted with diseases and protests. So anybody offering to “help remedying waste” may be understandably welcome, irrespective what the economic motives for doing so might be.

Therefore we are faced today with a waste management system that developed during times where today available Technology options were not available or affordable yet. So I don’t blame any resulting practices in the countries of high enough income population. If they don’t care, it may be considered their own fault for not caring any further after discarding their trash. But when it comes to business makers from these countries, trying to export concepts that misappropriate the real value of waste under today’s state of art Technologies, I’m inclined to call for a halt. Whether the people discarding waste know or do not know what it may be worth should not be abused for charging them for the application of outdated Technologies causing uncovered cost overruns unnecessarily. Or, in the case of cement industry taking advantage of people’s contribution to waste logistics to generate an extra profit by quashing waste’s crude oil substitute value at least 5 times higher. In the case of so called Waste to Energy we even talk a ten times higher value deprived of the feedstock providers.

So the key question becomes at what point of ignorance or passive resistance against new development opportunities will decisions for practices unnecessarily obliging citizens to pay for squandering lavishness and financing large industries profits alike the case in the cement sector, politicians may be accused of malversation to the disadvantage of their sovereigns? Following the Golden Rule, saying that the one who pays should be viewed as the commander in chief, this may be less absurd than some might assume.

Recently I was shocked by a threatening parallel observed between standards of waste management and child poverty within Europe! It is almost impossible to imagine that for every tonne of waste discarded in some countries without any environmental responsibility, at least € 150 per tonne are just chucked! Are we really that rich? I understand that some of these countries are not rich enough to invest in incineration for Waste to Energy realizing just about 10% at arms’ length energy prices under squandering € 135/tonne substitution value of crude oil in new Hydrocarbon refining. Throwing up the question, who will be going to take responsibility for exploitation of a sovereign’s resource to the benefit of third parties?

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