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Waste Reduction

Waste Reduction

Waste reduction, not involving hazardous materials, is both a political and economic issue. The issue is broad and covers consumer purchasing, manufacturing, environmental, and ethical decisions. As a result, words such as "biodegradable" and "recyclable" have become key marketing terms. Manufacturers who do not produce such products and who use excess packaging for their products have come under fire by both political and consumer groups. Although many organizations have responded by packaging their products in more environmentally friendly ways, the U.S. production of waste is expected to exceed available storage capacity in the future.

As population increases demanded additional waste reduction solutions, many of America's landfills reached capacity or were nearing capacity. In addition, federal and state regulators were in the process of shutting down many such facilities that did not meet regulatory standards. In an attempt to meet waste reduction demand, many waste managers were forced to consider alternate sources. These alternatives included recycling procedures and more cost effective methods of disposal. Other waste management techniques include the following:

  1. using the process of internalization whereby the waste company takes its wastes to its own landfill rather than pay the high prices associated with using outside waste disposal facilities.
  2. Many local and state governments are now prohibiting the use of landfills for the disposal of yard waste such as leaves.

In 1988, the EPA released a report that outlined the seriousness of limited landfill capacity in the United States:

"Extensive reliance on land disposal for municipal solid waste has resulted in capacity shortages in some areas of the nation. Nearly three-fourths of all municipal solid waste landfills are expected to close within 15 years, with 45 percent expected to close in five years. These shortages are becoming critical in densely populated areas of the country, particularly in the Northeast. In addition to limited source reduction and recycling, other factors that appear to be contributing to the capacity problem include difficulty in siting new disposal or treatment facilities due to public concern and limited long-term planning by some State and local governments".

Despite public opposition to new landfill construction figures from the National Solid Waste Management Association show that some 364 new landfills were constructed between the years 1985 and 1991. Many of these new landfills were considerably larger than the ones closed or nearing capacity stages. As a result of these new, larger, landfills, disposal capacity in the U.S. in 1996 was greater than at any point in the previous ten years, despite the fact that fewer landfills existed.

Although the waste reduction drive peeked in the 1980s and never came to fruition, concern over the topic is still being generated at both the state and federal levels. As a result of new waste management techniques such as larger landfill sites, mandatory and voluntary recycling programs, waste collection and disposal techniques and public awareness, the U.S. is still able to handle the amount of trash generated. New laws at all levels are reducing the amount of landfill space required by prohibiting the types of waste that can be sent to such facilities. Despite the U.S.'s ability to avoid the major waste crisis predicted for the 1990s, the country is not yet out of the woods. In the future, waste management techniques must continue to evolve and improve at the same time pressure is maintained on corporate and public sectors so that the importance of the issue does not fade from awareness.

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