A Brief History of Waste Management

Commercial Zone Blog

July 9, 2020

A Brief History of Waste Management

Everyone takes advantage of modern-day waste management. We use trash and recycling receptacles to throw away unwanted items, but do we ever take a step back and give this modern convenience a thought? Where did this come from? How did it start? Read more for a quick crash course in the evolution of waste management.

Everyone takes advantage of contemporary waste management. But while everyone uses trash containers or recycling receptacles every day to toss out unwanted items, how many people actually give the modern convenience of waste disposal even a brief thought?

Throughout human history, the evolution of waste management has been fundamentally tied to its effect on health and the environment, both good and bad. The modern waste management industry has come a long way, and with recycling and other advances, it’s poised to go even further.

Here is a timeline of some significant developments in waste management history.

Ancient Times

3,000 B.C. | The first recorded landfill is developed in Knossos, Crete (modern-day Greece), where large holes were dug into the earth to dump refuse.

2,000 B.C. | In China, simple methods of composting and recycling are developed and utilized, particularly for bronze to be used later.

500 B.C. | Athens, Greece, developed a law requiring garbage to be dumped at least one mile from the city to preserve its beauty and prevent illness.

Middle Ages

1388 | The English Parliament bans dumping of waste in ditches and public waterways.

1551 | German papermaker Andreas Bernhart begins placing his paper in coverings labeled with his name and address, thus devising the first recorded use of packaging.

1657 | New Amsterdam (now Manhattan, New York City) passes the first anti-littering law, making it illegal to throw or leave waste in the streets.

Industrial Revolution

1757 | Ben Franklin starts the first street cleaning service and encourages the public to dig pits in the earth to dispose of waste.

1875 | The Public Health Act of 1875 is passed by English Parliament, giving authority for waste collection and prevent mass scavenging. Also, the first concept of a portable receptacle is created.

1885 | America builds its first incinerator on Governors Island, New York City.

20th Century

1914 | Nearly 300 incinerators are in operation throughout the United States and Canada. Landfills begin to grow.

1921 | The rear loader garbage truck is developed, providing more efficiency in waste pickup.

1934 | The U.S. Supreme Court bans the dumping of municipal waste into the ocean.

1945 | Open-burning dumps and backyard waste burning is prohibited in most areas.

1947 | Consumerism reaches an all-time high due to the convenience and low cost of plastics, resulting in a 67% increase in packaging disposal.

1963 | The Clean Air Act is passed.

1965 | The Solid Waste Disposal Act is passed, authorizing government research on resource recovery and landfill research.

1968 | More than 33% of U.S. municipal waste is separated recyclable vs. nonrecyclable. Many states implement recycling programs, such as pay-per-can and newspaper curb recycling.

1970 | The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is founded as an independent federal agency to regulate the safety and security of the natural environment across the nation.

1976 | The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is created to plan for recycling, conservation and waste management. Twenty-six states have laws to regulate recycling.

1991 | More than 3,000 household hazardous waste programs are set up in all 50 states.

1994 | Federal agencies are required to buy and use recycled products. The Office of Federal Environmental Executive is created to enforce the directive. 

21st Century

2000s | More than 5,000 U.S. cities begin using “pay-as-you-throw” programs, charging residents based on the amounts of garbage each household or buildings throw away.

2010s | Advances are made in garbage truck technology, which allows them to pack and haul up to three times more waste than previous models.

Today | Americans make up less than 5% of the global population but create nearly 20% of the world’s garbage, producing over 250 million tons of trash annually.

The waste management products available from Commercial Zone are designed to help mitigate the issues created by trash and other refuse, while also making the processing of waste more efficient. We’re committed to staying on the forefront of trends to create a more sanitary, safer, healthier planet. It’s these trends and practices that help influence the design and features of our site furnishing products.


Recycle Guide: History of Waste Management

YouTube: “The History of Garbage”