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Cap and Trade: The path to a zero-waste future

Cap and Trade has been used successfully in the area of emissions and air quality.  Regional programs in the U.S. and Canada have been employed to reduce acid rain and ozone emissions, among other pollutants.


In a cap and trade program, sources are allocated a fixed number of allowances. Each allowance represents an authorization to emit a specific quantity of a pollutant (e.g., one ton). The number of allowances is capped in order to reduce emissions to the desired level, and sources are required to meet stringent, comprehensive emission monitoring requirements. At the end of the compliance period, emission sources must hold sufficient allowances to cover their emissions during the period. Sources that do not have a sufficient number of allowances to cover emissions must purchase allowances from sources that have excess allowances from reducing emissions (US EPA, EPA 430-B-03-002).


Applying the concept to solid waste, municipalities and states would be limited to the amount of trash they could produce.  Those who produced amounts beyond the cap would have to purchase credits from another state or municipality that was below the cap.  In this way governments would be incentivized to reduce solid waste production by instituting policies and programs at the local level that would reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill. 


Not surprisingly, Cap and Trade is highly controversial.  Even in the most progressive states it’s a hard sell.  Opponents argue that it’s unfair to businesses and difficult to enforce.  Despite the potential of Cap and Trade to significantly reduce our nation’s garbage production, it is unlikely that we will see any movement on this initiative in the near future. 

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 14, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    What a joy to find someone else who tnkhis this way.

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