A Brief History of Solid Waste Management in the US, 1950 to 2000 – Part 5a

Building an Infrastructure

In the US in 1950, refuse management was an uncoordinated, nonfocused, and disorganized enterprise with no infrastructure. The following statements could best describe it:

  • The terms used were refuse and garbage, not solid waste.
  • There was little federal presence.
  • There were no state solid waste programs.
  • Local governments were the principal providers of refuse services.
  • There were no professional solid waste associations and no solid waste magazines.
  • There were no national solid waste service companies.
  • Literally hundreds of thousands and Mom and Pop haulers existed.
  • Open-burning dumps were the management method of choice.
  • Collection of refuse was done on the backs of men.
  • Swine feeding was a major practice.
  • Salvage and reclamation were limited to industries.
Managing municipal solid waste is more than landfilling: publicity, education, engineering, long-term planning, and landfill gas waste-to-energy are specialties needed in today’s complex environment. We’ve created a handy infographic featuring 6 tips to improve landfill management and achieve excellence in operations.  6 Tips for Excellence in Landfill Operations. Download it now!

Since then, remarkable changes have occurred. The most significant outcome could arguably be an infrastructure consisting of many institutions including a federal and state solid waste program, new forms of local governments and companies to provide solid waste management services, solid waste associations and professional societies, and solid waste journals.

In this issue, we will discuss federal and state solid waste programs and new forms of local government.

Federal and State Solid Waste Programs

These programs are discussed together because the newly established federal program in 1965-66 focused a major part of its resources on the development of state solid waste programs.

The Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) was passed in October 1965. The principal purpose of the SWDA was to assist states and local governments and interstate agencies to plan, develop, and conduct solid waste disposal programs. Start-up funding was provided for the US Public Health Service (USPHS) to begin immediate implementation of the SWDA.

In 1966 there were less than 10 full-time solid waste employees in state programs and no state solid waste legislation, and general public health/public nuisance provisions addressed refuse.

Before the end of 1966, the USPHS Office of Solid Waste made its first state planning grant awards to a limited number of states. Two states typify the challenges before state governments and the embryonic federal USPHS solid waste program:

Missouri. Robert (Robby) Robinson was hired in 1968 by the state health department as the first state solid waste program director. His initial assignment was to develop, with assistance from the USPHS, a state solid waste plan. In 1968 there were over 500 open dumps in the state, mostly local government-owned. The state plan with a major goal to eliminate open dumps was issued in 1972 and was quickly followed by state solid waste legislation. By 1980 only three open dumps were left.

Minnesota. Floyd Forsberg was hired in 1968 as the first state solid waste program director. In 1968 there were 1,200 open-burning dumps in the state. The state plan, with a major goal to eliminate open dumps, was issued in 1970 and was quickly followed in 1971 by state solid waste legislation. By 1978 the majority of the dumps were closed and 75 new sanitary landfills had been licensed.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, USPHS regional office solid waste personnel worked with the states to develop their plans and programs. In a matter of a few years (1965-1975), identifiable solid waste programs emerged in every state. Don Townley, the Kansas City regional office solid waste program director, is typical of the USPHS leaders helping the states. He attributes the training provided by the Office of Solid Waste in Cincinnati as the singular most important support given to the regional offices and states by the USPHS. Robby, Floyd, and Don are representative of many who left as their legacies the viable state solid programs of today.

New Governments

The following short historical reviews are provided to illustrate the rapid acceleration of change that occurred in only 10-plus years.

It can be arguably stated that local governments are poorly equipped by law to deliver solid waste management services. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to addressing solid waste management in a cost-effective and efficient manner is politics. During the 10 most formative years of infrastructure building (1966-1975), many local and some state governments took steps to try to overcome the politics of trash, yet serve the public interests. The following brief examples illustrate how some governments made this happen. In every example, eliminating open-burning dumps was the principal catalyst for change.

Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. In 1971 the State of Connecticut had 144 landfills and 20 incinerators, all out of compliance with state regulations. Air pollution, groundwater contamination, and a landfill-use growth of 200 ac./yr. prompted the state legislature to take action in bringing about change.

In late 1973/early 1974, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a new state solid waste plan that focused on these unsatisfactory facilities. The plan recommended that the state form an independent body that could provide alternatives to these unsatisfactory facilities. The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) was formed. Its mission was to establish facilities to recover energy and materials from solid waste.

Initial implementation was slow, but by 1988 when Bill Darcy became the president of CRRA, two resource recovery facilities-Bridgeport and Mid-Connecticut-were in start-up. During the next 10 years one landfill, two more waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, two recycling centers, and 11 transfer stations were cited and built. Today, the citizens of Connecticut, through their local governments, are served by the CRRA with an integrated solid waste management system.

Monterey Regional Waste Management District (MRWMD). In 1951 the Monterey County (CA) Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to (1) establish a regional landfill to serve all incorporated local governments on the Monterey Peninsula and (2) close the unacceptable open dumps in the county. The Monterey Peninsula Garbage and Refuse Disposal District (renamed in 1987 to the Monterey Regional Waste Management District) was formed at that time. The board of the district includes an appointed representative from each of the seven partner cities, one county representative, and an at-large representative. For a period of time, a variety of small, temporary-leased sites were used by the county district to serve their member local governments. In 1966 the county bought a 575-ac. ranch for its landfill. In 1973 the first full-time district manager, Bill Parsons, was hired. In 1979, when Parsons left, Dave Myers was appointed district manager. He still serves in that position.

A sanitary landfill-the Marina Landfill-was established on the district-owned site (now a Subtitle D site is in operation). Other solid waste management activities that are now on the district-owned site include a landfill-gas-to-energy plant, yardwaste composting, petroleum-contaminated soils treatment and disposal, a MRF recycling 15 different types of recyclables, a popular resale store for discards, and a household hazardous waste management program. The site is now known as the Monterey Regional Environmental Park. With a 1998 budget of $10 million, the authority district managed just over 307,000 tons of solid waste. The authority district offers its 160,000 customers a fully integrated solid waste management system (the first-ever recipient of the SWANA Excellence Award for Best Solid Waste System).

Southeastern Public Service Authority (SPSA). In 1973, eight local governments in tidewater Virginia (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Franklin, South Hampton, and Isle of Wight) had their own dumps or shared one with a neighbor. In 1973 Norfolk and Portsmouth contracted with the Southeastern Regional Planning District to study alternatives to the current ways they disposed of solid waste. The study report, issued in 1975, focused on the need for a regional approach to manage solid waste. John Hadfield of the planning district worked on an effort to address the regionalization recommendation.

In 1977 a regional plan was proposed to establish transfer stations and a WTE plant. The eight local governments agreed to form SPSA to provide regional solid waste management services. Each partner community is a member of the Board of Directors of SPSA. In July 1978 the first two SPSA employees were hired: Durwood Curling, who was the city manager of Chesapeake at that time, and John Hadfield. They worked develop an implementation plan to formalize the partnership between the member local governments and the Navy, power plant owner and energy customer.

The effort to establish the WTE plant took much longer than anticipated. With landfills closing, the board of SPSA decided to establish a regional landfill and a transfer station system to fill immediate capacity needs. Siting efforts for the transfer stations and landfill were carried out during 1982-83. A 300-ac. landfill site was purchased. The site for the WTE plant was on Navy land. In 1984 two sets of bonds were sold to pay for and build the landfill, transfer stations, and refuse-derived fuel (RDF) plant. In 1985 the landfill was opened and several transfer stations were brought on-line. In 1987 the RDF plant came on-line.

Today SPSA owns a Subtitle D landfill, and a tire-processing and scrap metal-processing facility is sited on the 300-ac. site, as are seven transfer stations, the 2,000-tpd RDF plant and the power plant that uses the RDF, and a yardwaste composting program. SPSA also collects residential recyclables in seven of their member local governments.

SPSA is an independent authority under contract to serve its member local governments. In 1998, serving a population of 1,050,000 and with a budget of $55 million, SPSA managed just over 1 million tons of solid waste.

Managing municipal solid waste is more than landfilling: publicity, education, engineering, long-term planning, and landfill gas waste-to-energy are specialties needed in today’s complex environment. We’ve created a handy infographic featuring 6 tips to improve landfill management and achieve excellence in operations. 6 Tips for Excellence in Landfill Operations. Download it now!  

Space limitations prevented a full discussion of the following organizations, but they warrant notice because of their significance:

Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, CA. The SanDistricts has made major contributions to modern sanitary landfill design and operating practices. The SanDistricts answered the call in the 1950s to provide disposal capacity to their constituent local governments. This call was prompted when bans on open burning and backyard burning necessitated a need for massive disposal capacity. Tipping fees funds the SanDistricts solid waste program that includes landfills, transfer stations, and a WTE plant.

Maryland Environmental Service (MES). MES was established in 1970 by the Maryland General Assembly to provide water supply and wastewater treatment and disposal services to local governments. MES has been instrumental in the siting and construction of a number of solid waste management facilities in the State of Maryland. MES is self-funded through fees it charges for the services provided.

Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA). DSWA is a statewide authority established by the Delaware legislature to provide for solid waste management services for all solid waste generators in the state. DSWA licenses all haulers (public and private), provides for all landfill capacity in the state, and provides recycling drop-off centers for all citizens. DSWA is self-financing from tipping fees collected at its landfills.

Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County (SWAPBC). SWAPBC was created by local governments in Palm Beach County, FL, to replace the open dumps provided by the county. Under special state legislation, SWAPBC services include a Subtitle D landfill, an RDF WTE plant, yardwaste composting, and recyclables collection and processing for selected member communities. SWAPBC is self-funded through tipping and service fees.
About the Author

H. Lanier Hickman Jr.

H. Lanier Hickman Jr., P.E., D.E.E., is the former executive director of SWANA.

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