I’m not a regular reader of the New York Timesbusiness page, but on Friday this almost-worthy-of-Grist headline caught my eye: Waste Yes, Want Not.

Some of you might remember the saga of the Mobro 4000, the trash barge from New York that traveled the Eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico in 1987 searching out a final resting place for its cargo. I was a middle schooler in Corpus Christi, Texas when it came through our portion of the Intercoastal Waterway. I don’t recall that it tried to stop in our port, but it was the talk of the town as it passed by. We weren’t alone. The Mobro’s odyssey was news across the country and brought about much hand wringing about the shortage of space to dump the nation’s trash.

Turns out — in the words of the subheadline — Rumors of a Shortage of Dump Space Were Greatly Exaggerated.Why all the space at landfills? It turns out smaller local dumps were shut down in favor of larger regional dumps, which use all sorts of high and low tech tricks to increase efficiency. Waste management companies can now squeeze more trash into the same space, increasing the supply of dump space and decreasing the price of getting rid of garbage.

What really caught my eye was the credit given to environmental laws for spurring the increased efficiency. This is just one more example of how environmental laws can be good for business, despite the business lobby’s typical dire predictions before such laws are passed.

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But if it is cheap to throw out the trash, won’t recycling and waste minimization suffer? It’s certainly a concern of mine, although Chris’s recent post gives me hope that recycling will live on even in a cheap trash era.

And as the article concludes, it is not just the cost of dumping garbage but also the cost of getting garbage to the dump that cities have to worry about. New York City can dump it’s trash further south for about $35 per ton, but when you add in the cost of getting it there, the price nearly triples to $90 per ton. New Yorkers might want to keep that in mind the next time they throw away a half eaten black-and-white cookie.

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