A Waste of Life

The environmental and occupational health impacts of end-of-life management of stuff (not people!) are often downplayed.  Unless the landfill or incinerator is in your backyard, the management of stuff as waste is generally ignored.  Throwing away stuff is a subconscious activity for most people, but probably not the families and friends of the waste management and remediation services workers who died while working in 2008.

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries data are still preliminary, yet the refuse and recyclable material industry is already starting to take notice.  In 2008, there were 34 fatalities recorded for Solid Waste Collection (NAICS 562111), as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  There were 31 fatalities recorded in 2007 for the same classification of workers.  Solid waste collection fatalities in 2008 occurred as a result of transportation incidents and from contact with objects or equipment.

To address the occupational hazards for solid waste collectors, both the collectors and the motorists they share the roads with could probably benefit from safety training and from changing behaviors.  However, the processes required to collect waste using human-power may remain inherently dangerous.

Maybe the biggest change would occur if the true cost of stuff included the economic, environmental, and social impacts of end-of-life management.  Would this spur innovation of novel waste management methods?  Or even spur innovation of novel repurposing of goods such that there is no waste at all?

Comments

  1. #1 cpetty
    September 23, 2009

    Some causes of accidents often cited by waste & recycling workers are pressure to work too fast (especially when paid by the load or ton rather than by the hour), driving for long hours, and faulty trucks or equipment. These are not inherent in the job. Your implication that less waste would lead to fewer deaths may be true on the surface, but without good policy attached it also leads to fewer jobs. Reducing waste through recycling creates jobs, and high-road recyclers and unions can ensure safer, better jobs.