The Free Enterprise of Trash Management (Letter to the Editor)

In the article “Tons More of N.Y. Trash Headed for Va. Landfills” [front page, Jan. 12], Virginia State Sen. William T. Bolling (R-Hanover) says: “There’s absolutely nothing that will prevent Virginia from becoming the nation’s king of trash.” Environmental activist Jim Sharp also chimed in saying that allowing increased waste imports from New York “means we’re New York City’s dump.” Both want to find ways around the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which ensures free-trade between the states, to keep New York trash from entering Virginia. After all, Virginia is supposed to be for lovers, not trash.

But if lawmakers want to avoid bad public image, they should stop calling their own state a dumping ground. The reality is, waste disposal is a business like any other, and modern landfills are not “dumps” but offer a safe and sound way to manage trash. Moreover, for many communities in Virginia, continued free enterprise in this industry is vital to the livelihoods of many low-income residents. For Charles County, the recipient of Waste Management Inc.’s increased waste import plan, the landfill pays the community “host” fees based on the amount of trash it collects. As The Post recently noted, such fees enabled the county to cut taxes 44 percent and pay off debts associated with educational needs. 

If problems associated with odors or trash spills arise, then we should look to constructive solutions that enable communities to employ local trespass and nuisance laws to address those specific problems. Attempting to ban free-enterprise might work rhetorically for lawmakers and environmental activists, but it will do so at the expense of many low-income state residents, and it won’t do anything to promote constructive solutions to specific environmental problems.