Rayport and Lodge offer an important antidote to much of the mythology that has sprung up regarding solid waste. In particular, they accurately point out the gap between perceptions and reality that undergirds so much discussion of environmental issues.
Products do not neatly fall into categories of “good” and “evil.” As Rayport and Lodge point out, plastic packaging makes up only a small portion of our solid waste stream. Much of this plastic packaging is recyclable, including the much-maligned polystyrene used in the fast-food industry. Indeed, a major pilot plant to recycle polystyrene just recently opened its doors in Southern California.
Though Rayport and Lodge marshal important evidence to undermine some environmental myths, the prescription they offer to overcome misperceptions that drive the marketplace is inadequate. What they propose is government guidance through the provision of authoritative, reliable and accessible information, coupled with some sort of national plan.
Unfortunately, government actions to date give little cause for hope on this score. And the problem is not inaction, but ill-conceived actions. At the state and local levels, a number of regulations have been promulgated that actually endorse the very myths that Rayport and Lodge wish to dispel, thereby fueling misperceptions.
The marketplace is actively seeking to mitigate environmental impact.
While the government may play a role in setting basic health and safety standards regarding solid waste management, national (or even statewide) plans cannot offer the flexibility necessary for fundamental problem solving.
Vice President, Research
Reason Foundation, Santa Monica