Trump presidency sparks fear, skepticism among waste industry professionals
Election season has come to an end: Donald Trump was officially elected the 45th president of the United States. Now, in the coming days of a post-election whirlwind, the people who run the industry are determining what this means for business.
While the full effects of Trump's victory on environmental policy, trade and the overall waste industry are unknown, what is known is that many waste professionals are unhappy and skeptical of what this will mean for the future.
Based on a reader survey, 70% of respondents are not satisfied with the outcome of the election. This mirrors sentiments from a previous reader survey showing that a majority of respondents favored Hillary Clinton as the president to best meet industry interests.
Many waste-related policies are decided on the state and local level, but federal decisions can still have significant ripple effects on waste and recycling operations. Economic stability, environmental protection regulations and emissions reduction policies were all cited as priorities before the election and came up again as readers processed Tuesday's results.
Economic prosperity and trade
One of Trump's biggest selling points to voters was his decades-long track record of business experience and potential to create economic growth. He has promised major infrastructure spending, which has led to predictions that scrap metal prices could improve and could result in new sources of waste to be managed. A significant increase in incomes could lead to increased consumption, which would also result in more waste to be managed.
Responses were mixed on whether this will happen and what Trump's trade policies could mean:
- "Very grateful that our country is now [run] by a businessperson and not a politician."
- "The waste industry will continue to grow as building grows. A revival in business would only improve our industry. Recycling on the other hand needs to be completely overhauled ... Government must put in place a viable recycling mandate that is supported with new markets for recycled products."
- "This industry depends on a global economy. Keeping it local is a nice thought, but a tough reality."
- "Industries will continue to pilfer our natural resources and annihilate our global landscape for profit and political gain. Unfortunately, now, there is no one to stop them from doing so. But garbage companies will continue to reap the benefits from the excessive waste. This is a crushing blow to our planet."
- "Very concerned with trading partners such as Mexico & China. If Mr. Trump's election leads to a recession — we were warned."
One measure that Trump has made certain is his plan to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the first day of his term in office, as reported by NPR. ISRI has supported the TPP due to the possibility for it to generate "millions of dollars in tax revenue" and "create thousands of recycling jobs across America," according to ISRI officials, so it will be interesting to see how industry leaders react once Trump takes office.
With the recent 40th anniversary of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the future of environmental regulations were already on the minds of many in the industry. However many professionals expected conversations about how regulations could be updated, not how they could be repealed.
Trump's plans on this front are still unclear. In the past he has expressed an interest in reducing — or eliminating — the powers of the EPA as well as rolling back parts of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. President Obama's Clean Power Plan also appears to be in jeopardy.
Some agree with Trump's view that these types of regulations place undue burdens on businesses. Others worry that environmental conditions could deteriorate and business could be negatively affected:
- "I fear that the rollback of environmental regulations and easing of business restrictions will translate to lowered requirements for waste disposal and a reduction in volume."
- "[He] will decimate energy and environmental policies."
- "Trump's lack of respect for the environment, and for government's role in regulating industries that have an impact on the environment is likely to do irreparable harm. Supreme court rulings favoring flow control for local governments may be overturned, leading to increased privatization and higher costs."
- "Regulations support our business as compliance protects the environment. I am concerned there will be turmoil and too much change too fast without thoughtful consideration for unintended consequences."
- "The industry is far more sophisticated than politicians, and has engaged in a wide variety of technical innovations that serve to protect the environment."
- "We are only beginning to understand and implement changes that will affect our industry immensely. The future looks bright."
Climate and recycling culture
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate the effects of climate change has been a driving force for many recent trends in the industry — from cleaner vehicle fuels to landfill gas capture to food waste reduction. Trump's skepticism of climate change's severity and causes are well-known.
On a broad scale some are worried about his willingness to abide by The Paris Agreement and potential to revert the Obama administration's environmental policies. On a more personal level some are concerned that Trump's presidency will be a setback for sustainability culture. Others see recycling as a well-established cultural norm at this point and are less concerned:
- "I believe climate change deniers have no place in government, and will be detrimental to the waste management field."
- [Regardless] of our nation's leaders, the waste and recycling industry is populated by many capable professionals who genuinely care about our environment."
- "Climate change denial is not a long-term business strategy."
- "I think that there is so much momentum moving forward focused on creating value streams from waste, and creating circular economies, that even someone who doesn't believe in climate change can't stop it. He would be shutting down industries that are creating jobs in America — industries that make America great."
- "Not optimistic because the results of the election will make it very difficult to advance policies that support the transition to Zero Waste and a transition to a Circular Economy."
- "Optimistic — the industry is mature enough, the positive economics will keep it expanding, and recycling is entrenched in the culture. The biggest challenge is to reduce waste."
The next two months, and the next four years
More will become clear as Trump's transition team works to develop specific policies and announce appointments to key environmental positions in the coming months. The stock market has proven resilient after initial concerns and government officials around the world have pledged to remain open-minded about what a Trump administration will be like.
The announcement of this unprecedented election comes during a time when the industry has a clear agenda to aim for zero waste, increased recycling and emissions mitigation, and the new administration will have quite the task to keep the industry on track for those goals, if they decide to do so at all. Though whatever happens between now and 2020, at least one thing is guaranteed: The country will still generate waste, and there will still be plenty of opportunities to collect and manage it.