Book cites Vermont law as part of litter history

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(Host) One day, Heather Rogers set out to find out where her garbage went after she left it on the curb to be hauled away.

She started by following the garbage truck as it made its rounds through her neighborhood.

Eventually she went a lot further, exploring the history, politics and economics of waste disposal.

Rogers’ book about her experiences is called “Gone Tomorrow, the Hidden life of Garbage.”

Monday, she spoke to students at the Vermont Law School.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Heather Rogers told the students that one of the turning points in modern garbage history occurred in Vermont.

Alarmed by the litter caused by the post World War two boom in disposable containers, the state’s farmers fought for a law to ban some non-reusable bottles.

The Vermont legislature passed it in 1953. It was the only bill of its kind ever enacted in the U.S.

The law was written to expire in two years. When grocers and beer distributors spoke out against it, the legislature failed to renew it.

Rogers says the law’s demise illustrates the 1950’s shift away from reusable, repairable items to disposable merchandise which offered convenience to consumers and significant marketing and economic advantages to manufacturers.

The result she says is so much trash that it presents a serious environmental problem.

In her book, Rogers argues that no amount of recycling is going to offset the amount of disposable merchandise being produced.

She supports recycling, but she also calls it a feel good fraud that ignores larger problems. .

(Rogers) “Recycling has a track record at this point and we can see that it has very serious limitations and it’s not a viable long term solution to the problems that we’re talking about. I think it’s definitely worth doing, absolutely. But it needs to be part of a larger list of demands, which include things like greater product durability, greater product serviceability, making changes in the production process so that we make less waste to be begin with.”

(Zind) Rogers is an advocate of government regulation as part of the solution to the waste problem.

As an example, she cites Germany – where more than seventy-percent of the containers produced have to be refillable, reducing waste by hundreds of thousands of tons.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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