Miami County Recycles

History of Solid Waste – Part 3

Garbage Mountains Grow and Grow

Surely entrepreneurial Americans got waste management better than most of the world, right? Eventually, we did. But it was a bit of a long haul up that garbage mountain to today’s greener approaches. We’re going to share some information published by the Association of Science Technology Center (ASTC), in a humorous link entitled “The Rotten Truth About Garbage” tracking that journey.

In 1657, New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) passed a law against casting waste in the streets. In 1710, colonists in Virginia commonly buried their trash. In 1792, Benjamin Franklin came up with a hideous solution. He used slaves to carry Philadelphia's waste downstream. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the trash heaps, in 1810 Peter Durand patented the "tin can," creating a whole new type of “trash” to be dealt with. Our innovativeness created more waste than it reduced.

In 1834, folks in Charleston, West Virginia tried to work with natural processes, enacting a law protecting vultures from hunters. The birds, after all, helped eat the city's garbage. In the meantime, residents of Washington continued to dump garbage and slop into alleys and streets, allowed pigs to roam freely, and slaughterhouses to spew nauseating fumes. Rats and cockroaches infested most dwellings including the White House.

At least some progress was made in 1866. New York City's Metropolitan Board of Health declared war on garbage, forbidding the "throwing of dead animals, garbage or ashes into the streets." In 1872, New York City finally stopped dumping its garbage from a platform built out over the East River. Here was a real breakthrough. In 1896, New York City began requiring residents to separate household waste by placing food waste in one tin, ash in another, and dry trash in a bag or bundle -- and assigned 40 policemen to enforce the new edict. Small and medium sized towns, not to be one upped, built “piggeries,” where swine were fed fresh or cooked garbage. But the piggeries produced their own wastes---and smells. So the drive for progress forged ahead, but the solutions were at most hit or miss.

During World War 2, reuse and recycle came more prevalently into play. We began to collect rubber, paper, glass, metals, and fats to help the war effort. Paper collections were so successful they overwhelmed the markets. But ironically, returning American soldiers looking to live the American Dream to the fullest inadvertently created new problems. As the parents of baby boomers boomed more and more, they asked: “Why keep things until they are worn out? We fought the war. The Great American Boom is on.” The “ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods,” declared advertisers in 1953. Used with permission.


One specifically noted:

“It is our job to make women unhappy with what they have.” So when did our approach finally begin to change? We’ll see that in Part 4.


Has this history given you pause to think about your “historical” patterns and how they might contribute to the creation of waste? With just a little foresight, what can you do to change these “historical” patterns?


Posted on Oct 13, 2017 by Miami County Recycles