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Municipal Waste

"Fix it Up...Wear it Out...Make it Do...Do Without."
Old Folkrhyme

A Short History of Solid Waste
Significant Federal Waste Legislation
Significant Texas Solid Waste Legislation
Definitions of Waste
Page 1
Municipal Solid Waste: What is it?
Municipal Solid Waste Discarded in the United States
Municipal Solid Waste in Texas
Importation and Exportation of Municipal Solid Waste
What's the Fuss over the Stuff?
Page 2
What to do with Waste: Municipal Choices
Page 3

Page 4

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Texas Environmental Almanac, Chapter 8, Municipal Waste, Page 1


The question of what to do with trash has been of concern to every society. Humans have essentially used the same four methods to deal with trash: reduce it, reuse it, dump it, and burn it.(1) But it was not until the late 19th century that a systematic municipally-run waste collection system was put in place in the United States. The system started in New York City where, under the direction of the Street Cleaning Commission, 1,000 men clad in white, known as the "Apostles of Cleanliness," transported trash from the streets to dumps and incinerators.(2) By 1910, most municipalities across the country had established some system of waste collection and disposal.

In the past twenty years, a substantial body of state and federal legislation regulating the disposal of industrial, hazardous and municipal solid waste (MSW) has been developed. Before that time, solid waste management depended on the judgment and decisions of individuals or local departments of health and sanitation. There was no distinction made between industrial and municipal solid waste - each was handled and disposed of in the same manner, mainly through landfilling, incineration or discharging into rivers and streams. Significant federal regulations governing the disposal of non-hazardous and hazardous waste did not go into effect until 1976, two years before the contamination of Love Canal was reported. In what seems to be a natural evolution of environmental law, federal waste legislation fell in place right on the heels of national water and air pollution control legislation. Concern for human health and the environment was the impetus for the enactment of the major federal legislation - the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA).

During the crafting of RCRA, Congress knew it had the opportunity both to regulate disposal methods and to reduce the generation of waste by regulating production and products. Several bills were introduced to minimize waste by regulating product contents, consumer product packaging and manufacturing processes; these bills did not pass. For both solid waste and hazardous waste, Congress made a policy decision to regulate waste disposal rather than encourage source reduction.(3)


103 million tons of industrial non-hazardous waste

139 million tons of industrial hazardous waste

21 million tons of municipal solid waste

Source: Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Analysis of Municipal Solid Waste Stream, Draft Document (Austin: TNRCC, July 1994).


Five other major pieces of state legislation have been passed relating to municipal solid waste management:

DEFINITIONS OF WASTE Trash generally refers specifically to discards that are at least theoretically "dry": newspapers, boxes, cans and yard trimmings.

Garbage generally refers to "wet" discards: food remains and waste materials from the handling and sale of produce and other food products.

Municipal Solid Waste is an inclusive term for both the wet and dry discards.

Rubbish is another term for trash and refuse.(6)

Texas Environmental Almanac, Chapter 8, Municipal Waste, Page 1

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