May 7, 2012 | last updated June 1, 2012 2:19 pm
EDITORIAL

Tale of two numbers shows state's folly

Two numbers have floated to the top of the news: Nos. 1 and 44.

Connecticut is poised to become the first state to legislate the recycling of mattresses at the very moment a survey ranks the state 44th in business climate.

There's a connection.

The good news is that Connecticut hasn't slipped in the business climate analysis conducted by Chief Executive magazine. At 44, we're right where we were last year. Of course that means all the gains from the special session on jobs were cancelled out by bad policy enacted by a legislature apparently bent on turning Connecticut back into its natural state as a forest separating two going economies.

A closer look at the mattress-recycling proposal shows the problem.

There is no argument: Used mattresses are an environmental concern. They're clogging dumps; they don't burn well; pulling them apart for recycling is labor intensive. That all creates a disposal problem. The cost of proper disposal is estimated at $40 a mattress.

News reports trace the origin of the recycling legislation to a City of Hartford official faced with signing off on more than $400,000 a year to dispose of mattresses dumped into the city's trash collection system. So she decided it was only fair to find somebody else to pay the tab and, naturally, she turned her eye toward business. And just as naturally, the legislature piled on.

The doctrine is known as 'extended producer responsibility.' The basic logic is that if you built the product, you're responsible for it cradle to grave.

By embracing extended producer responsibility Connecticut is firing a poorly aimed shot across the bow of all manufacturers. First it was tires and e-waste, now mattresses. Where does it stop?

If you think about the logical extensions of that doctrine, the world as we know it ends. Is Pratt & Whitney responsible for retrieving and recycling all its engines? Is the candymaker responsible when the wrapper becomes litter or is that the papermaker's problem? Where does it end?

Somewhere the responsibility of the individual user has been lost in a nanny-state fantasy that business is responsible for all ills.

At least in the case of mattresses, we're not really quibbling about price. The consumer is ultimately getting the bill, whether it's folded into the original cost or tacked on at the end like the 'used tire recycling fee.'

Rather, the issue is who's responsible for taking on the headache of building and managing the mechanism for disposal. Under the Connecticut plan, it would be manufacturers. That road seems certain to lead to a silo solution that wouldn't take into account the big picture or possible synergies from other industries.

Isn't that the expertise we've developed in the waste management and recycling communities? Shouldn't they be the ones constructing the solution? And isn't this exactly the kind of big-picture societal problem that governments are supposed to solve?

On the plus side, policymakers can take pride in creating jobs. They've walked away from a problem with an identified revenue stream. All we need is somebody to connect the dots. A for-profit firm is getting ready to set up shop in Bloomfield and a nonprofit is gearing up in New Haven, CT Mirror reports.

At the end of this long train of ducked responsibility and cost shifts, the more likely result is that we'll drive all mattress manufacturers from the state and residents will have to buy online, then fend for themselves getting rid of the old one.

Last year, Connecticut became the first state to mandate paid sick leave. This year, we're flirting with hiking the minimum wage and opening the Pandora's box of extended producer responsibility. These are not places where we want to be No. 1.

For a state that proclaims its 'open for business,' we have a really odd way of showing it.

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