Garbology

Air view of Puente Hills Landfill- the largest operating sanitary landfill

This book was definitely one of the more interesting books that we have read for this class. Maybe because it was all about garbage or maybe because it was all about garbage. It was just interesting to me to read about how our society has dealt with trash in the past and is dealing with it now. I knew we produced a lot of trash, but I didn’t realize how packed the landfills we have are becoming and the impact that it will have in the years to come. Just in the introduction into the book inferred me about information that I was clueless about. I knew that Americans threw away a lot but I didn’t know we made more than any other country in the world, accumulating 7.1 pounds per person per day, 365 days a year. The fact that American communities send more on waste management than on fire protection, parks and recreation, and libraries and schools is shocking to think about. Waste is becoming such a problem that it is now one of the greatest contributions to the global economy.

In the first chapter they talk about Puente Hills landfill, which is the largest active municipal dump in the U.S. Above are two pictures of the landfill from a ground and air view. This landfill is so big that it has its own ecosystem and active nature preserve. It has enough methane-spewing decomposing garbage to power a hundred thousand homes. Workers of Puente Hills use large machines called BOMAG’s as a tool for packing piles of trash into what they call cells each day, the size of a football filed and then they bury it with fresh dirt everyday. The crews working there battle the stenches with berms and deodorizers, along with large fans to try and keep out the noxious odors away from the housing communities that are close by. They also look back into the history of garbage and talk about the role it played in the Black Death that plagued Europe. Back then people would just throw their trash and feces out the window into the streets without any regard. The town dump concept finally found official resurrection in the 1300s when the French linked trash accumulation to national security instead on sanitation, saying that enemies could get close undetected to their town and attack without them noticing.

The next chapter was talking about methods for picking up trash and how New York had a really big problem with trash in the city. When Colonel George E Waring took charge of the sanitation duties in New York he changed how people looked at sanitation efforts. He came in as a Civil War veteran, who worked as a city engineer before serving in the military. The first move he made as head of sanitation ended up being an international symbol and eventually became a cartoon cliché. He would get a sanitation army that would patrol the streets wearing all white and would gain the habit of being menacing and occasionally roughing up litter bugs. People would eventually start calling them the “White Wings”. This was just his first attack on garbage and he would couple it with a new form of garbage collection where recycling reduction and recovery were emphasized like never before. Incinerators used to be  big problem as well until 1957 when the ordinance to ban incinerators worldwide was passed.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was Waste Management Incorporated, which is the largest trash company in history. The company started with a Dutch immigrant named Harm Huizenga who attended the Chicago world fair and started hauling trash for $1.25 and transformed into a billion dollar company. Once the company became huge, it got into trouble with many scandals. In 1991 a report made a statement about the company saying that “To create an empire the company has mixed business acumen and foresight with strong doses of deception, corruption, and monopolism”. The company nearly got destroyed in 1998 by a scandal from one of the nations biggest accounting scandals ever. The scandal devastated the company and tits stock dropped $25 billion and a smaller company, USA waste services, bought the company even though it still kept the same name.

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