Waste Disposal: Coming Crisis

March 12, 1969

Report Outline
Growth of the Waste Disposal Problem
Early Methods of Disposing of Refuse
Proposals to Improve Waste Disposal

Growth of the Waste Disposal Problem

America the beautiful is also America the wasteful, and as waste products accumulate, the beauty is apt to fade. Refuse litters the shore of San Francisco Bay. Liquid, solid and thermal effluents pour freely into Ohio rivers. The fumes of burning refuse darken the atmosphere of New York City. Discarded bottles, cans and paper deface highways and parks. The quality of American life—and life itself—is diminished.

Around $3 billion a year is spent in the United States on urban waste disposal, and that sum is not nearly enough. But additional money is not the only requirement. More ingenuity in disposing of waste materials is needed, as well as increased public awareness of the dimensions of the waste problem. Much of what is routinely thrown away is salvageable. The carcasses of old automobiles can be and to some extent are reclaimed as scrap metal; some waste paper is repulped; some manure is used as fertilizer. Most of these materials, however, become eyesores or pollutants, or both. Salvage of waste is expensive, but the economic and social costs of letting waste pile up at present rates promise to be infinitely greater.

Changes in Quantities and Varieties of Refuse

Only a country as wealthy as the United States could afford to be wasteful on such a prodigious scale. In poorer lands, less is thrown away because there is less to throw away. Housewives carry groceries in reusable cloth or nylon-net shopping bags, not disposable paper bags; automobiles are driven, by those fortunate enough to own them, for many more years than in this country; newspapers often serve as wrapping paper or toilet tissue before being finally discarded. France, with its great variety of wines, has only a few types of wine bottles. “Except for Champagne and Alsace, all France gets along on two shapes, two colors, and one standard size. Bottles scarcely occur as litter in France. Even those left by American tourists are soon picked up and recirculated.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Trash and Recycling
Mar. 27, 1998  The Economics of Recycling
Mar. 20, 1992  Garbage Crisis
Nov. 17, 1989  America Turns to Recycling
Sep. 11, 1987  Garbage Crisis
Aug. 23, 1974  Solid Waste Technology
Mar. 12, 1969  Waste Disposal: Coming Crisis
Hazardous Substances and Nuclear Waste
Recycling and Solid Waste