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History of waste management

The history of waste management is described in this article.

Historically, the amount of wastes generated by human population was insignificant mainly due to the low population densities, coupled with the fact there was very little exploitation of natural resources. Common wastes produced during the early ages were mainly ashes and human & biodegradable wastes, and these were released back into the ground locally, with minimal environmental impact.

Before the widespread use of metals, wood was widely used for most applications. However, reuse of wood has been well documented[citation needed]. Nevertheless, it is once again well documented that reuse and recovery of such metals have been carried out by earlier humans.

The Maya of Central America had dumps, which exploded occasionally and burned[citation needed]. They also recycled. Homemakers brought trash to local dumps, and monthly burnings would occur[citation needed]. Many Mayan sites demonstrated such careless consumption. Consumption and waste of resources is probably related to supply available more than any other factor.

With the advent of industrial revolution, waste management became a critical issue. This was due to the increase in population and the massive migration of people to industrial towns and cities from rural areas during the 18th century. There was a consequent increase in industrial and domestic wastes posing threat to human health and environment.

Waste management and disease in history

Waste has played a tremendous role in history. The Bubonic Plague, cholera and typhoid fever, to mention a few, were diseases that altered the populations of Europe and influenced monarchies. They were perpetuated by filth that harbored rats, and contaminated water supply. It was not uncommon for Europeans to throw their waste and human wastes out of the window which would decompose in the street.

Table of events

Events in the history of waste management[1][2][3]
Date Location Notes
1 6500 BC North America Archaeological studies show that a clan of Native Americans in what is now Colorado produced an average of 5.3 pounds of waste a day.
2 500 BC Athens Greece First municipal dump in the Western world organized. Regulations required waste to be dumped at least a mile from the city limits.
3 New Testament of Bible Jerusalem Palestine The Valley of Gehenna, also called "Sheol" in the New Testament of the Bible ("Though I descent into Sheol, thou art there."), was apparently a dump outside of the city that periodically burned. It became synonymous with "hell."
4 1388 England English Parliament barred waste dispersal in public waterways and ditches.
5 1400 Paris France Waste piled so high outside of Paris gates that it interfered with city defense.
6 1690 Philadelphia Rittenhouse Mill, Philadelphia made paper from recycled fibers originating from waste paper and rags.
7 1842 England Edwin Chadwick's Report of an Inquiry into the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain linked disease to filthy environmental conditions. "Age of sanitation" began.
8 1874 Nottingham England A new technology called "the Destructor" provided the first systematic incineration of refuse in Nottingham, England. Until this time, much of the burning had been accidental, a result of methane production.
9 1885 Governor's Island New York First waste incinerator built in United States.
10 1889 Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C., reported that the country was running out of appropriate places for refuse.
11 1896 United States Waste reduction plants, for compressing organic wastes, arrived in US. Later closed because of noxious emissions.
12 1898 New York New York opened first waste sorting plant for recycling.
13 Turn of the 20th century Waste problem seen as one of the greatest problems facing local authorities.
14 1900 "Piggeries" developed to eat fresh or cooked waste. (In the mid-1950s, an outbreak of vesicluar exenthama resulted in the destruction of thousands of pigs that had eaten raw waste. A law was passed requiring waste to be cooked before feeding it to swine.)
15 1911 New York City New York City citizens produced 4.6 pounds of refuse per day (contrast to the Native Americans from 6500 BC mentioned above, 5.3 per day).
16 1914 United States About 300 incinerators in US for burning waste.
17 1920's Landfills becoming a popular way of reclaiming swamp land while getting rid of trash.
18 1954 Olympia, Washington The city of Olympia, Washington, paid for return of aluminum cans.
19 1965 United States First federal solid waste management laws enacted.
20 1968 Companies began buy back recycling of containers.
21 1970 United States First Earth Day celebrated. Environmental Protection Agency created. Resource Recovery Act enacted.
22 1976 United States Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) created, emphasizing recycling and waste management, due to oil embargo and discovery (or recognition) of Love Canal.
23 1979 United States EPA issued criteria prohibiting open dumping.


  1. ^ Waste management timeline
  2. ^ Milestones in garbage US EPA
  3. ^ The History of Waste Do you want to be a garbologist? Environmental chemistry
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "History_of_waste_management". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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