NOW THAT energy conservation has become respectable, it is time to come to grips with the waste her natural resources. For the waste of non-fuel trials may soon create economic dislocations on a greater than those of the oil embargo and last winter natural gas shortage.
While experts - from the Club of Rome to the National Commission on Supplies and Shortages - disagree about the size of the world's supply of resources, it was that materials are becoming increasingly expensive. As companies must mine and process less rich tons of ore, they will require more energy and more massive technological methods.
International political considerations may also have a positive effect on the American economy. According to E. McKelvey, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, "The United States is dependent on foreign sources of more than half of its supply of 20 important minerals, a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of which are critical to some of its basic industry."
Because the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) has been so very successful in administrating its oil cartel, industry nations are now [WORD ILLEGIBLE] that other resource-rich nations may follow the result. Although skeptical of the power of such action, Fortune magazie added that three commodities, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] chromium and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] - lend themselves to possible "cartelization."
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] the bauxite cartel has thus far been effective: In Jamaica and Australia, the leading bauxite produce increased production taxes on U.S. mining companies. Sevenfold, raising the cost of bauxite from approximately $10 to $25 per ton. Yet, during 1974 and 1975, Third World countries nationalized their copper, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] tin and iron mines. Venezuela, for example, over several areas which annually supply $15 million of iron ore (equal to 30 per cent of U.S. imports.)
DESPITE the rising expense and the instability of mineral supplies, Americans this year will thorw more than 160 million tons of materials - approximately 4.5 pounds per person per day. Approximately 66 percent of this waste is packaging, single-use convention items and major consumer items designed for the obsolescence.
They are onl now beginning to realize that our throwing habits waste precious resources and create a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and expensive solid waste problem. Collection of disposal of garbage - costing Americans more than [WORD ILLEGIBLE] annually - has become the second largest item in most city budgets, surpassed only by public schools. Because the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 prohibits the dangerous, though inexpensive, practice of open-dumping, this cost may double within the next few years. Three years ago, the National League of Cities declared the solid waste problem to be the most urgent issue that cities face; it predicted that half of the nation's cities would exhauts their disposal capacities by 1978.
Despite these problems, materials conservation has yet to become politically respectable. To date, the Carter administration has made only mild, and often contradictory, statements about the issue. For example, on the one hand, the President has asked the Interagency Resource Conservation Committee - established by Congress to recommend ways to encourage waste reduction, recycling and resource recovery - to accelerate its study. His administration, however, has requested only $300,000 of the $2 million Congress authorized for the committee, leaving its three part-time staff members without adequate resources to contact outside experts.
Moreover, while Carter has made the symbolic gesture of having the White House use recycled paper, he has failed to have the Interstate Commerce Commission review its regulations which discourage the reuse and recycling of materials.
But his most significant contradiction concerns packaging. Despite his statement that excessive packaging is a principal cause of the solid waste problem, Carter has failed to endorse national deposit legislation in order to promote returnable beverage containers - the single measure which the Environmental Protection Agency claims would most significantly reduce the size of our nation's trash piles. A simple shift from throw aways to returnables would also save 225 trillion BTU each year - enough energy to supply the annual electrical needs of both New York and Chicago.
THE PRESIDENT's failure to endorse the measure and the overall political problems with materials conservation result from the power of the packaging industry. For the past 20 years, packaging has been a booming business Between 1958 and 1974, production increased 70.6 per cent. Relative to other production, this advance is spectacular. In the food industry, for example, in terms of weight consumption increased by only 2.3 per cent while the packaging around the food increased by 33 per cent.
As a result of the boom, container industries have gained immense wealth and political power. In particular, beer and soft drink bottlers and bottle makers, who profit from the high demand for throwaway containers, have used this power to fight against laws requiring can and bottle deposits. In the 1976 Massachusetts referendum, for instance, opponents spent more than $1.4 million to defeat a deposit law.
In addition to facing strong political opposition on deposit laws, advocates of materials conservatin are now blocked by numerous existing federal regulations which promote the rapid use of virgin materials. Depletion allowances, for example, encourage the virgin materials industries to increase their production unnecessarily in order to increase theiincome. The Treasury Department estimates that, due mainl to the depletion allowances, mineral industries were taxed only about 25 per cent of their total net income, compared with 43 per cent for other manufacturers. The timber industry receives a similar benefit through capital gains treatment. Other legislation also needs to be reexamined in light of materials conservation, including the Mining Act of 1872, which allows private firms almost unrestricted mining on public lands.
The current market system also needs to be reformed to reflect the cost of collecting and safely disposing of the nation's garbage. EPA policy analyst Fred Smith maintains that a product charge levied against the producers of packaging would save 7.7 million tons of materials and 1 trillion kilowatt hours per year.
Thus, Carter's concern for energy conservation may soon force him to challenge the packaging industry's political power.A reduction to the packaging levels of 1958 (when the boom began), for example, would save 753 trillion BTU each year.When comined with a nationwide shift to returnable beverage containers, this packaging reducing program would realize energy savings of almost 1 quadrillion BTU a year - enough to drive 23 million automobiles (one-quarter of the total registered in the nation) - from New York to San Francisco.
While fully funding the Resource Conservation Committee would be a step in the right direction, the Carter administration should develop an integrated legislative program which reforms outmoded laws and implements new conservation regulations. If he can withstand pressure from the powerful packaging industry, Presidet Carter now has the opportunity to realize significant savings both in energy and materials.