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Union-Tribune: Less Waste More Proof US Economy is Taking a Trashing

Union-Tribune: Practically everyone knows the local housing industry has hit the skids and the nation is flirting with a recession.But they probably don’t realize how those challenges are reflected in recycling bins and landfills.

That’s right. The waste stream is providing ton after ton of evidence that the economy is in the dumps. From less construction debris going into landfills to an expected drop-off in the amount of recycled Christmas trees, the trash shows that 2007 likely will end as a down year.

As crews haul away the remains of Christmas festivities this week, they are collecting evidence of the San Diego region’s fiscal health.

So-called garbologists such as landfill operators and recycling managers discern not only major economic indicators, but also trends such as the increased use of gift cards, the most popular consumer electronics, and a TV show’s influence on vodka consumption.

We can look at the garbage and tell you what happened” from week to week, said Robert Reed of Sunset Scavenger, a company that handles residential recycling in San Francisco.

For example, people likely bought fewer and smaller Christmas trees “with money being tight,” said John Theroux, a recycling specialist for San Diego.

Residents started bringing their trees to the city’s Miramar Landfill for recycling yesterday.

Waste experts have studied the link between garbage and finances for years. The field of “garbology” offers insights into a range of economic behaviors.

For example, archaeologist and author William Rathje analyzed piles of rubbish and determined that low-income families routinely buy small brand-name products instead of larger “economy” packages. More (Union-Tribune)

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