History of Waste Management
As the population of the planet grows and is concentrated more and
more into urban areas, Waste management becomes an increasingly
crucial part of a properly functioning society. For health reasons
and quality of life, the effective disposal of waste, both organic
and manufactured, must be a municipal priority. However, the demands
of waste management have changed over time.
For many centuries of human existence the rural nature of human life
and the fact that communities were sparse, with insignificant
exploitation of natural resources meant that waste, such as human
organic waste and the ashes from fire, were simply re-absorbed back
into the natural environment. It was when civilizations began
congregating in towns and cities that waste management became an
The Ancient Greeks were the first society of which there is recorded
evidence of a concerted system of waste management. Archaeological
evidence suggests that they had communal dumps for biodegradable
waste at a minimum distance from the city limits.
In England, the slow growth of towns meant that the first official
ordnance regarded waste management was not issued until the end of
the fourteenth century, when the dumping of waste into waterways
that provided drinking water was prohibited.
Through the seventeenth century, in Europe and America, concerted
waste management involved both collection and, to a great extent,
recycling. Coal ash, the waste from domestic heating fires was
sieved and made available for re-use. At the end of the century, a
mill in America produced the first paper made from recycled fibres,
a process that continued and was refined over the coming centuries.
The industrial revolution of the eighteenth century caused a huge
increase in urban populations. This dense gathering of people meant
that waste issues increased exponentially. At the start of this
urban growth, cities were renowned for the dirt and filth that
coated the streets and infected the waterways. Soon, however,
municipal authorise realised that the health of the workforce was
suffering and instituted sewerage systems.
At the start of the twentieth century, the increase of manufactured
produce that was not biodegradable saw a shift to the use of
incinerators to get rid of waste. While this is still used as a
method of waste management, concerns over the environmental effect
of burning such material saw a concurrent rise in landfills, often
in swamp land.
Today, as the world population continues to increase and there is
more pressure on land, there is a booming trade in the disposal of
human waste, with waste being exported from developed countries to
those in the developing world for disposal. The challenge is to find
an environmentally sensitive waste disposal method for an
increasingly dense urban population in the future.
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