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The Committee's first major legislative enactment in the solid waste area was the Solid Waste Disposal Act, enacted in 1965 as Title II of P.L. 89-272. The purpose of the Act at that time was seen to be to “mobilize resources to attack current solid waste problems and .. initiate a longer range program of research and development directed toward discovery and application of new and improved methods of solid waste disposal.” 1
By 1970, the problem of solid waste disposal was being modified to include recovery of useful materials and energy and to include measures designed to reduce the amount of solid waste generated. To focus attention on this broadening of scope, the 1970 amendments (P.L. 91-512) were labeled "Resource Recovery Act of 1970." They included financial aid for projects designed to demonstrate recycling technology and to study the social, technical, and economic factors affecting recycling.
The Committee recognized at that time that attempts to recover resources from solid wastes and attempts to reduce the total amount of solid waste generated would reverberate throughout the economy and have additional effects elsewhere. In preparation for a still broader approach, therefore, Title II of P.L. 91-512 created the National Commission on Materials Policy to study the impact of materials activities on the environment, and to make recommendations to Congress concerning materials policy needs. The Commission submitted its report on June 27, 1973.
The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has not only come forth with the series of reports on solid waste disposal and recycling required by the Resource Recovery Act, but has also concluded that, from the solid waste management point of view, the Federal role has largely been achieved and further progress should now be carried out at the State and local levels.
However, implementation of the Resource Recovery Act has neither increased recycling nor reduced flow of solid wastes. Oversight hearings? held by the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution late in the 92nd Congress and other investigations by the Subcommittee staff indicate that major changes in the current solid waste program appear to be necessary if the Federal programs dealing with the solid waste management problem are to have any degree of success. The hearings and investigations indicate the following:
(1) The mandate of the 1970 Resource Recovery Act that Federal policy change direction from emphasizing disposal to emphasizing recycling and resource recovery has been almost entirely ignored in implementation of the act.
U.S. Code Congressional and Administratlve News, 89th Congress, First Session, 1965, page 3632.
Summary of Legislative Activities and Accomplishments of the Committee on Public Works, U.S. Senate for the 92nd Congress, Serial No. 92-28, Dec. 12, 1972, page 58.
(2) Sites for future land disposal of solid waste are increasingly difficult to find.
(3) Current Federal policies relating to taxes, freight rates, public lands management and other economic influences strongly favor disposal after first use of raw materials rather than recycling and reuse of once-used materials.
(4) Federal regulation of products to reduce the volume of solid waste before the point of disposal is probably necessary, particularly in the area of packaging.
(5) There is significant citizen awareness of the need to engage in better solid waste management practices, but this is accompanied by frustration at limitations on the availability of recyclable and reusable products and potential markets for goods and
materials which can be recycled. To provide enough time for consideration of all the factors involved in the solid waste materials-resource matrix, the 93rd Congress extended the Solid Waste Disposal Act, as amended, until June 30, 197+ (P.L. 93--14, April 9, 1973).
As the historical development of the Committee's legislative activities implies, one issue involved in solid waste disposal is whether the issue is properly defined. In air pollution, for example, there is general agreement that the issue resides in the air quality-human health effects relationships, even though there is disagreement as to the particulars within that relationship. In water pollution, there is general agreement that the issue resides in the water quality-ecological health relationship, even though there is disagreement as to the particulars therein.
In solid waste and materials, however, there is no general consensus on where the issue resides. Originally, it was waste disposal practices. Then it was resource recovery and recycling, with a materials policy component. On the basis of bills in the Congressional hopper to date this year, the issue is defined variously as resource conservation, litter reduction, single-use packaging, freight rates, hazardous waste disposal, and tax policy, to name a few.
The majority of studies carried out under the mandates of P.L. 91512, in support of those mandates or independently, point to the need for some sort of comprehensive overview by means of which various proposals can be evaluated. The study “The Economics of Recycling” by Talbot Page provides one possible overview.
Many studies disagree on one issue of fundamental significance to consideration of this subject area-namely, on the nature and extent of the raw material resources on which the material segment of our economy is based. These disagreements on estimates of the resource base cannot be resolved, for they stem from our basic ignorance about many physical aspects of our planet plus our inability to predict the future with respect to technological developments and social values.
“Forecasting Depletion,” by Earl Cook is designed to provide a mechanism for the observer to identify the explicit and implícit values and assumptions underlying the various estimates of resources.
All projections of demand for materials include assumptions about median product lifetimes. Some legislative proposals are designed to promote the development and production of longer-lasting cars, dishwashers, and other items of household and industrial equipment. The Teknekron study, “Technical and Policy Implications of Factors Influencing Product Durability,” shows that economic forces and personal values are as important as technological capabilities in determining product life. This study also shows that legislation requiring more durable products could be counterproductive, not only for the specific product user but for the economy as a whole, should associated factors such as repair and maintenance costs and salvage value not be appropriately treated.
Dr. Huddle's "Analysis of Assumptions and Conclusions of Some Contemporary Studies of National Materials Policy" undertakes “to
review some of these materials reports to identify on a comparable basis their assumptions and their conclusions.” All four of the reports analyzed were generated either by or for the National Commission on Materials Policy en route to its report.
“Man, Materials, and Environment” was also written for the National Commission on Materials Policy. However, the basic questions it raised were not accepted by the Commission and are not found in the Commission's Report. These basic questions are posed in a single key paragraph:
The study committee believes that the threat to environmental quality and resource availability, caused and compounded by our treatment and use of materials, poses a real problem and a vital national issue which calls urgently for an open-minded reexamination of certain commonly held beliefs. These beliefs are: (1) that natural resources can be used in whatever amount is evoked by public demand for goods and services as stimulated and guided by producers' efforts to enlarge their markets; (2) that improved well-being of society is adequately measured by aggregate volume of the production of goods, increased per capita use of goods, and aggregate consumption of materials and energy; and (3) that technological development should and will continue to contribute to and accelerate the increased throughput of materials per person as it has in the past.
The basis for this position is laid out in the portion of Chapter I, of the subject report which is reprinted here.