• Lebanon Diaries of a garbage bag

    Our garbage may be taken out of sight, but it never disappears. Whether it is recycled, landfilled, burned or tipped into the sea, it endures in one form or another—a witness to past human activity. Even prehistoric times are known to us primarily through such traces: long before our forebears could write, they left waste behind, offering clues as to their diet, habitat and tool-making. To this day, our garbage bag is profoundly revealing, sometimes bursting at the seams with secrets and social commentary. In other words, it tells our story.
    Nowhere is garbage more expressive than in Lebanon: a tiny country with an ever-expanding and increasingly dangerous supply of trash. Lebanon’s waste tells the story of a dense, consumerist society that has failed, for decades, to set up a functioning waste management system, as authorities dither from temporary fixes to partial solutions, from emergency schemes to unimplemented masterplans.
    The present crisis has deep roots. Even before communal violence swept Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, waste management infrastructure was minimal. Municipalities outside the capital dealt with the problem haphazardly, in dumpsites regularly set ablaze. Beirut mostly resorted to crude incineration in the suburb of Amrousieh, at a plant already deemed unsatisfactory, until it established a sorting and composting center in another suburb, Karantina, in 1972. In 1974 the government passed groundbreaking legislation that prohibited tipping waste on the coastline; stockpiling trash anywhere but in dedicated areas; and releasing effluents into the water table, the rivers and the sea. But the 1975 outbreak of civil war upended efforts to establish order; the garbage bag was left to fend for itself, inaugurating a pattern of ad hoc landfills and endemic spillage that lasts to this day.
    Nowhere is garbage more expressive than in Lebanon

  • Is #Pollution Value Maximizing ?

    Quand polluer « maximise les #profits », une entreprise décide de continuer à polluer en pleine connaissance de cause, même si l’affaire reste toujours rentable après avoir investi dans des appareils de dépollution...

    In February 2017, #DuPont settled a C8-related litigation for $670M. Thus, it may seem that the system works and legal liability should deter firms from polluting. However, by using evidence discovered during the C8-litigation we show that it was perfectly rational for DuPont to pollute ex ante, in spite of the costs it ended up paying ex post, and the costs it imposed on society.


    The key decision point for DuPont came in 1984 , when alarming information about the potential consequences of C8 emissions caused the company to call a top-executives meeting. By 1984 DuPont was aware that C8 is toxic, associated with birth defects, does not break down in the environment, and accumulates in human blood over time. Essentially, by 1984 C8 could already be considered a perennial red flag. DuPont’s executives acknowledged that the legal and medical departments would recommend stopping the usage of C8 altogether in light of the new alarming information. Yet, the business side overruled these recommendations and opted to continue C8 emissions (in fact they doubled them). Importantly, DuPont’s decision-makers also opted against investing in abatement options that were on the table , such as building an incineration device that would greatly reduce C8 emissions.

    Was this a myopic managerial decision? An agency problem? The internal documents allow us to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, showing that even a shareholder-value-maximizing manager would have chosen to pollute. Our calculation shows that even if DuPont managers could have forecasted all future legal liabilities, they would have preferred to pollute as long as they thought that the probability of getting caught was less than 19%. Given the extreme set of unlikely events that led to the payment of heavy legal fines, and given the fact that other C8 users (like 3M) have escaped such heavy legal liability, we conclude that at that time polluting without abating was a reasonable bet by DuPont’s decision makers. Thus, it was value-maximizing for DuPont to pollute, in spite of the fact that—as we show—the costs C8 pollution imposed on society greatly exceeded DuPont’s own estimates of abatement costs.

    Via naked capitalism, qui critiquent les remèdes proposés par les auteurs de l’étude :

    Quelle Surprise ! Pollution Pays ! | naked capitalism

    Given the large power imbalance when companies misbehave, Shapira’s and Zingales’ remedies are insufficient. They incorrectly frame the problem as in informational, as opposed to about incentives.

    They call for bounties for whistleblowers plus a large tax on gag settlements in environmental cases. But it is hardly a secret, save maybe in academia, that whistleblowers ruin their careers and often their marriages, and pay a big psychological price, when the financial payoff is far from certain. Economists of the caliber of Shapira and Zingales should know that people are risk averse, and for good reason: there’s no reason to think you have more than one life. Why throw it away on a fight, even a righteous fight, which parties with much deeper pockets and staying power than you have who will do everything they can to pound you into the ground?

    Similarly, the idea of a tax on gag settlements is just silly. The incremental cost of the tax will be too small to change behavior. Shapira’s and Zingales’ objective is to more disclosure, which would help regulators and parties considering litigation, when the companies will just pay the tax.

    The obvious solution is to make executives accountable, by at a minimum forcing the payment of any large fines to come out of deferred comp and to require executives above a certain level to have a significant portion of their compensation be deferred. Only by hitting the executives where it hurts, in their wallets, and to enough of a degree to affect their standard of living, do you start to have a chance of changing behavior.

    #impunité #complicité

  • Sweden Now Recycles a Staggering 99 Percent of its Garbage

    Despite criticism of the incineration program, its proponents are quick to defend it. Anna-Carin Gripwall from Swedish Waste Management explains, “When waste sits in landfills, leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gases, it is obviously not good for the environment. Waste-to-energy is a smart alternative, with less environmental impact, taking into account both by-products of incineration and emissions from transport. Plus, recovering energy from waste exploits a resource that would otherwise be wasted.” Sweden’s WTE plants also currently put out about half the emissions levels that they are permitted to by law.

    The Swedes note that such a program is only feasible in a country with a good waste separation system, to ensure that recyclable materials, foodstuffs, and hazardous waste such as batteries, light bulbs and electrical waste aren’t incinerated. They are also clear that the best long-term solution for waste management is producing less waste in the first place. As Göran Skoglund from WTE company Öresundskraft states: “The world has a garbage problem, there is no doubt about that, but in the meantime, waste incineration and extracting energy from the waste is a good solution.” According to the EPA, in 2012 the U.S. only reclaimed 34.5 percent of its waste.