Introduction

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Humans generate solid wastes as by-products from all of their activities. Disposing of these solid wastes has become a challenge, especially as population densities have grown. Waste deposits (i.e., garbage dumps) have been associated with human habitation since prehistoric times. For example, the ancient cultures of the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S. left huge piles of shells from marine molluscs they had eaten. Called middens, these piles indicate past settlement patterns. In this regard, one of the most interesting studies on modern solid wastes has been conducted from the perspective of the archaeologist (Rathje and Murphy, 1992a, 1992b; Rathje and Psihoyos, 1991). This was the "Garbage Project" which spanned more than two decades at the University of Arizona. Its approach was to view solid waste as a reflection of the material culture of modern society, in the same way that archeolo-gists have studied past civilizations.

Solid waste consists of a diversity of objects from a variety of sources. In most cases, materials from different sources are collected and mixed together to form municipal solid waste. Approximate contributions to municipal solid waste in the U.S. are as follows: 50% residential, 25% commercial, 12.5% industrial, and 12.5% institutional (Hickman, 1999). The composition of this waste, from the Garbage Project, is shown in Figure 6.1. This data came from actual excavations of modern landfills, conducted like "archaeological digs." Paper, including packaging, newspapers, telephone books, glossy magazines, mail-order catalogs, etc., dominates all other waste categories in this survey. On a more personal basis, Table 6.1 shows production from the author's household for the year 2000 when the first draft of this book was being written. On a seasonal basis, peaks in total trash production occurred in March with spring cleaning and in December with extra holiday trash. The average solid waste generation was 2.7 lbs/person/day (1.2 kg/person/day) with a ratio of nearly 2:1 of waste that was recycled vs. waste that went to the local sanitary landfill. Paper, including the categories for newspaper, glossy paper, and part of the unsorted trash, again dominated other categories of waste. Because all kinds of paper carry information, especially the newspapers, these analyses of waste composition may be the best indication that modern society has passed from the industrial age to the age of information.

Routine disposal of solid wastes requires a highly organized solid waste management system (Hickman, 1999; Tammemagi, 1999). A number of actions are

Hazardous Material

Glass

Paper 50%

Construction Debris, Tires, etc. 19%

FIGURE 6.1 Composition of solid waste from analyses by the Garbage Project of the University of Arizona. (Adapted from Tammemagi, H. 1999. The Waste Crisis: Landfills, Incinerators, and the Search for a Sustainable Future. Oxford University Press, New York.)

Hazardous Material

Glass

Organic Materials 13%

Paper 50%

Construction Debris, Tires, etc. 19%

FIGURE 6.1 Composition of solid waste from analyses by the Garbage Project of the University of Arizona. (Adapted from Tammemagi, H. 1999. The Waste Crisis: Landfills, Incinerators, and the Search for a Sustainable Future. Oxford University Press, New York.)

involved including collection, transport, separation, storage, and treatment. This is a major commercial enterprise in the U.S. with associated government involvement and regulation. Ultimately, the methods of managing solid waste are as follows:

1. Source Reduction — prevention of solid waste generation

2. Recycling — diversion of specific items from the solid waste stream for other uses (such as composting)

3. Combustion — combustion of solid waste to reduce volume and in some cases to generate energy

4. Landfilling — disposal of solid waste by burial

Several of these management methods involve constructed ecosystems that can be considered as forms of ecological engineering.

Ecological engineering approaches are appropriate for the organic component of municipal solid waste, especially for categories such as food wastes and yard wastes. In these cases, the organic materials provide an energy source for detritus food webs. Traditionally, only microbes have been considered important decomposers of organic solid wastes, as is characteristic of sanitary engineering in general. However, other forms of biota can be engineered into more complex ecosystems for solid waste

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