This article focuses mainly on the changes in waste management that have affected the lives of the average urban or suburban resident in the United States. Many would think that Americans are vastly wasteful and lazy, and that is far from the truth! As always, Americans will find one way or another to form practical solutions and industries.
There have been amazing advancements and opportunities that have turned responsible waste management into a way of life, rather than a burden. For the average urban dweller, waste management has taken on new meanings and new processes, many of which had nothing to do with formal government programs.
There are laws about the ways in which hazardous or toxic waste can be disposed of. Motor oil is no longer allowed to go into storm drains. Computers and their associated problems must now be properly disposed of, with some computer retailers springing for the fees for getting rid of the old when we buy the new.
One informal and underground area of waste and surplus management is in the "urban score", where unwanted furniture, clothing and other items are simply left on the sidewalk in the morning and everything is gone by evening as people (many of them quite well off) see the items, stop, and pick them up.
Surplus management, as opposed to straight disposal is also a giant industry. Whether surplus items are put into storage, donated to the many charities that resell unwanted items, or are sold in the vast number of online auction transactions, garage and block sales, there are organized ways to deal with serviceable items that are excess to needs. Some charities even send a truck to pick up items, have trucks in set locations for delivery and have convenient ways for people to bring their excess to the charity retail store.
Many people have a form of mental illness called "hoarding". There are government programs, property codes and laws that help to resolve the more hazardous or problematic cases of individuals who refuse to get rid of any waste at all, leading to homes and properties that are life threatening, nuisances, or hazards to the community.
On site disposal has become a booming industry that offers a variety of ways for individuals and small operations to dispose of surplus and waste. There are a variety of containers that are delivered and removed when structures or landscapes undergo partial demolition. There is a huge industry in recycling, restoring and resale of architectural materials.
There are shredders, chippers and grinders that will deconstruct everything from plant material to documents and household goods. There are incinerators that burn the waste in efficent ways, with pollution scrubbers that contribute less pollutants to the atmosphere.
Recycling has taken on new forms of industry and effectiveness as every type of person, from the office bottle and can collector to the straight dumpster diver explores ways to make money from collecting and selling the things that people toss away.
For formal waste disposal, instead of one giant repository for the week's waste and garbage, there are now multiple containers. One is for recycling paper, glass and other qualified items. The other is for wet or decomposing garbage, and a third might be for plant material and compostable waste. There may also be several days of the year when residents may put all of their disposables, no matter what the size, out for pickup.
"The dumps" is now a place of state-of-the-art waste management. From detailed waste collection, separation and recording programs to methane gas collection and riparian restoration, the regional and local landfills are not only critical for getting rid of today's waste, they are building usable land for the future.
In summary, several major factors, including informal and formal public education and innovation processes, have led to great changes for the average urbanite or suburbanite. The ability to make a little income, the ease of making contributions to charity, the convenience of destroying, storing, and separating for recycling have made waste management an issue for all. The advanced landfill services and disposal technologies have made it acceptable, convenient, and a moral imperative for most of American urban society to adapt to and to exploit new ways of dealing with surplus and waste.