Many of the nation's current solid waste policies follow an outdated, politicized, and government-centered model. State and local regulators focus on deciding how much waste should be recycled, placed in landfills, or burned in incinerators. This approach fails to discover the most environmentally and economically sound mix of options. Policy makers lack the necessary information and therefore focus on misplaced perceptions about the various disposal options. As a result, they produce recycling programs that cost more than they save and use more resources than they save. In contrast, private sector competition between recycling, landfilling, and incineration produces a market that reduces costs and saves resources.
Federal policy makers should resist attempts to increase federal regulation in solid waste disposal. Local governments should seek ways to increase private markets in the waste disposal industry. They should change waste policies to allow market-driven competition between various disposal options—allowing recycling, landfilling, and incineration companies to complete so that the most environmentally and economically sound mixture of disposal options results.