The Washington Post reports in the March 14, 2009, edition that trash levels are falling throughout the Washington region and the rest of the country. The hard times have caused people to reuse or repair what they have and to recycle what they can.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2007 the amount of trash generated per household as compared to 2006 fell by 0.6 percent to 4.62 pounds per person per day. During the same period, the recycling rate increased by 2.7 percent.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the bottom has fallen out of the recycling industry. Fewer purchases due to a weak global economy resulted in a lower demand for boxes and related packaging materials. China, which recycles most of the world's paper, has been especially hard hit. As a large exporter of manufactured goods in a world where demand has fallen sharply, this is a double whammy for the Chinese economy.
Perhaps this is why Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboa wants to be sure that Uncle Sam is working hard to protect China's $1 trillion investment in our Treasury bonds. Rising U.S. deficits could weaken the value of the dollar, thereby reducing the value of China's holdings. However, China also needs to get people buying its goods again, which might require even more government spending to stimulate the American economy.
Unfortunately for China, Americans may be marching to the beat of a different drummer these days. We have been told over and over that the cure for what ails us is a two-step dose of economic medicine. First, we need to get out there and buy stuff to stimulate demand. Then after we have spent our way out of yet another jam, we need to go back to saving money to reduce debt.
Well, some of us may be going straight to Plan B. People are taking a hard look at the consumer culture that has dominated an entire generation, and a lot of folks are deciding that maybe that's not the way to go. Living large all of a sudden doesn't look as good as living small.
We got our first taste of the possibilities of living small when gas jumped to $4 a gallon. A lot of folks changed their car buying habits and their daily routines to cope with tighter budgets. The next big thing looks like it will be growing our own food. Burpee reports that demand for seed is up by 20 percent.
The latest economic crisis is reeducating us about the 4 R's: Reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle. The learning curve may be a little steep, but this looks like one lesson that may stick. If so, China may need to rethink its own business plan.