Throughout most of history, the amount of waste generated by humans was insignificant due to low population density and low societal levels of the exploitation of natural resources. Common waste produced during premodern times was mainly ashes and human biodegradable waste, and these were released back into the ground locally, with minimum environmental impact. Tools made out of wood or metal were generally reused or passed down through the generations.
However, some civilizations do seem to have been more profligate in their waste output than others.
In particular, the Maya of Central America had a fixed monthly ritual, in which the people of the village would gather together and burn their rubbish in large dumps. Modern era
Sir Edwin Chadwick.
Following the onset of industrialisation and the sustained urban growth of large population centres in England, the buildup of waste in the cities caused a rapid deterioration in levels of sanitation and the general quality of urban life. The streets became choked with filth due to the lack of waste clearance regulations.
 Calls for the establishment of a municipal authority with waste removal powers were mooted as early as 1751 by Corbyn Morris in London, who proposed that “…as the preservation of the health of the people is of great importance, it is proposed that the cleaning of this city, should be put under one uniform public management, and all the filth be…conveyed by the Thames to proper distance in the country”.
However, it was not until the mid-19th century, spurred by increasingly devastating cholera outbreaks and the emergence of a public health debate that the first legislation on the issue emerged. Highly influential in this new focus was the report The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population in 1842 of the social reformer, Edwin Chadwick, in which he argued for the importance of adequate waste removal and management facilities to improve the health and wellbeing of the city’s population.
The Nuisance Removal and Disease Prevention Act of 1846 began what was to be
a steadily evolving process of the provision of regulated waste management in London. The Metropolitan Board of Works was the first city-wide authority that centralized sanitation regulation for the rapidly expanding city and the Public Health Act 1875 made it compulsory for every household to deposit their weekly waste in ‘moveable receptacles’ for disposal – the first concept for a dust-bin. Manlove, Alliott & Co. Ltd. 1894 destructor furnace.
The dramatic increase in waste for disposal led to the creation of the first incineration plants, or, as they were then called, ‘destructors’. In 1874, the first incinerator was built in Nottingham by Manlove, Alliott & Co. Ltd. to the design of Albert Fryer. However, these were met with opposition on account of the large amounts of ash they produced and which wafted over the neighbouring areas.
Similar municipal systems of waste disposal sprung up at the turn of the 20th century in other large cities of Europe and North America. In 1895, New York City became the first U.S. city with public-sector garbage management.
Early garbage removal trucks were simply open bodied dump trucks pulled by a team of horses. They became motorized in the early part of the 20th century and the first close body trucks to eliminate odours with a dumping lever mechanism were introduced in the 1920s in Britain. These were soon equipped with ‘hopper mechanisms’ where the scooper was loaded at floor level and then hoisted mechanically to deposit the waste in the truck. The Garwood Load Packer was the first truck in 1938, to incorporate a hydraulic compactor. Methods of disposal
Main article: Landfill
Landfill operation in Hawaii.
A landfill compaction vehicle in action.
Spittelau incineration plant in Vienna
Disposal of waste in a landfill involves burying the waste, and this remains
a common practice in most countries. Landfills were often established in abandoned or unused quarries, mining voids or borrow pits. A properly designed and well-managed landfill can be a hygienic and relatively inexpensive method of disposing of waste materials. Older, poorly designed or poorly managed landfills can create a number of adverse environmental impacts such as wind-blown litter, attraction of vermin, and generation of liquid leachate. Another common product of landfills is gas (mostly composed of methane and carbon dioxide), which is produced as organic waste breaks down anaerobically. This gas can create odor problems, kill surface vegetation, and is a greenhouse gas.
Design characteristics of a modern landfill include methods to contain leachate such as clay or plastic lining material. Deposited waste is normally compacted to increase its density and stability, and covered to prevent attracting vermin (such as mice or rats). Many landfills also have landfill gas extraction systems installed to extract the landfill gas. Gas is pumped out of the landfill using perforated pipes and flared off or burnt in a gas engine to generate electricity.
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