Recycling Solid Wastes
We are not to throw away those things which can benet our neighbor. Goods are called good
because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who
use them properly.
Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–220 CE)
In an era when energy conservation, material cost and availability, and solid waste management are
critical concerns to municipal administrations, scientists, and the general public, it is imperative that
the importance of recycling and the value of products manufactured from scrap are appreciated.
As we shall see, the benets from waste recycling are not solely environmental, but economic and
aesthetic as well.
As discussed in Chapter1, integrated waste management embraces a hierarchy of management
options to achieve maximum economic and environmental returns. Recycling was listed near the
top of the hierarchy and will be addressed in this chapter.
As indicated in Chapter2, recycling is not a new phenomenon. Animal manure, plant debris, and
“night soil” have been applied to agricultural lands for millennia, and rag pickers were important
recyclers in America as recently as the early twentieth century. Modern recycling can trace its roots
back to the 1960s, following citizen awareness of myriad environmental and public health concerns.
At that time, however, recycling programs often emphasized segregation of materials from the
waste stream. Unfortunately, markets were not established for the purchase and reuse of separated
materials. Manufacturers were reluctant to invest and participate in new processing technologies,
and many were not equipped to handle these so-called “secondary materials.” As a result, many
separated materials found their way to the landll. Recycling programs failed not only due to a
lack of processing but also, more importantly, due to a lack of established markets for separated
A new environmental awareness arose by the late 1980s, catalyzed by news of wash-ups of
medical wastes, decline of landll space, possible global warming, and atmospheric ozone depletion.
At this time, sanitary landlls were closing and new ones faced substantial regulatory and grass-
roots opposition to permitting and siting. The cost of disposing wastes correspondingly increased.
As a result, interest in recycling by the public and, signicantly, by industries and government
In recent years, many community recycling efforts originated from efforts to reduce the
waste load to the local landll, thus saving tax dollars. Recycling drop-off centers and materi-
als recovery facilities (MRFs) were established by municipalities as a result of public pressure.
On a national and state scale, legislation has been promulgated that encourages recycling of
MSW. Some regulations are aimed at waste generators, whether the individual homeowner
or business; some take the form of guidelines or requirements for extending the lifetime of
the local landll. On the heels of federal mandates since 1990, most states set specic guide-
lines for reducing the quantities of waste entering landlls. These quotas were to be met via a
combination of source reduction, recycling, and composting. Other legislation addressed the
purchase of recycled materials. Some government ofces, for example, are now required to