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125 six The Limits of Efficiency On Highway 58 going south from Pécs, Hungary’s fifth-largest city, until recently there was a large sign painted on a wall with the ditty: ‘‘Waste is not garbage, MÉH will take it and pay for it.’’1 Just about ten kilometers from this billboard oozes Hungary’s most notorious toxic waste dump, filled with the wastes of BCW that MÉH could not take and that the reform-inspired expenditure reduction programs could not diminish. In this chapter I will describe the contradictions and limits of the efficiency model and its implementation. I will concentrate on BCW’s failure to reduce the tetrachlorobenzene waste, in the framework of the new waste reduction campaigns, and on the effect of professionalization on the fate of this by-product. The Ineffectiveness of the Efficiency Model While there is no evidence of the Gazda movement existing past 1959, its legacy lived on in sporadic waste collection campaigns that continued into the seventies. Even after several waves of economic reforms since 1968, achieving economic goals such as waste reduction in the early eighties was still predi- reform and reduce (1975 – 1984) 126 cated on the fifties’ and sixties’ model of plan fulfillment. The government ’s expenditure reduction programs of 1981 and 1982 defined the country’s waste problems as problems with efficiency: too much use of materials and thus too much waste in relation to the useful final products. One of my interviewees, who was in charge of implementing the economic rationalization campaigns spawned by these programs at the Budapest Chemical Works, described them as follows. The central planners had a general objective of material conservation, such as the percentage by which their specific material or energy use was to be cut. Enterprises then made pledges about how much they could decrease their material and energy use. After the campaign period, enterprises competed with each other on the basis of their actual achievements. According to articles in the company’s newspaper and interviews with former employees, BCW performed successfully in the expenditure reduction programs. Initially, such conservation campaigns were still announced with the slogan of thriftiness and concentrated on the negligence of employees. Their most common goals were to reduce water and energy consumed in the public spaces of the plant, such as the locker room and the restaurant, and to rationalize the use of new work clothes and shoes. From the midseventies , however, the conservation campaigns finally started concentrating on reducing the wastes and losses of the actual production processes, and even made it possible for brigades to pledge to cut the by-product-toproduct ratio by a certain percentage, as in the case of the dichlorinoetudin production. The source of production waste, however, was often still seen in minor flaws of the production technology, such as leaking pipes or tootight openings on containers, as a result of which herbicides were easily spilled in the process of packaging. To the extent that waste was seen as an accident, the campaigns of the late seventies still invoked workers’ alertness and sensitivity to such problems. Articles in the BCW publication Vegyiművek (Chemical Works) indicate a certain resistance to overgeneralized conservation efforts. In a few instances they contrast such campaigns with professionalism and the good reputation of the company. A 1979 article with the title ‘‘Is It Worth Being Thrifty Just to Lose Money at It?’’ disclosed the huge losses BCW suffered because one of its final products was shipped off in overused drums that leaked their contents (‘‘Megéri takarékoskodni, csakhogy veszítsünk rajta?’’ 1979). The article claimed that if the drums had been scrapped, the company could have avoided the lawsuits brought by customers. The management , however, failed to heed warnings implied by this case, because in 1983 the manager of the TCB production plant proudly announced a The Limits of Efficiency 127 conservation method: storing the TCB by-product in used drums rather than in new ones, resulting in a savings of almost 2 million Forints (‘‘Az önköltséget vizsgálták két üzemcsoport gyakorlatában’’ (Production costs examined in the practice of two plants), Vegyiművek, June 20, 1983). This practice later led to the early corrosion of the drums and to the leakage of their contents. The environmental consequences of this ‘‘prudent’’ conservation action, which I’ll discuss in the next chapters, are still felt today. The unique production process...


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