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History of Waste Regulation in the US

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Provide a brief description of the history of waste regulation in the United States.
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  History of Waste Regulation in the US By the late 1800s, America had developed a rather significant industrial base and her cities were  becoming more urbanized. Because the correlation between filth and disease had become much more of a scientific certainty, local governments slowly became more involved with addressing proper sanitation, though most efforts focused on water and wastewater systems rather than waste management systems. Furthermore, America's expanding industrial base led to additional problems of increasing amounts of industrial waste to dispose. However, change was not to come easily as local politics, costs, or general  public apathy frequently thwarted attempts to establish local sanitation controls. In any event, by the late 1800s, the germ theory of disease, and its correlation to sanitary conditions, was reaching its peak largely due to three epidemics in the 1870s. 20  Prior to the 1890s, there was little local government effort to provide an organized system for waste collection and disposal. As the 19th Century ended, the need for such a collection system was becoming apparent primarily due to four public concerns. First, as cities grew and America became a more consumer-oriented society, household wastes, ashes, horse droppings, street sweepings, and general rubbish were becoming more overwhelming problems for cities and individuals to manage. Secondly, the danger to public health from unsanitary conditions was firmly established. Third, both citizens and  politicians realized that a clean city would attract businesses and create jobs which would, in turn, improve local economies. Fourth, local government involvement in public sanitary services was already well-established with water supplies and sewage management systems. Garbage collection was a natural extension of public services, and increasingly, local citizens began demanding solutions. 22  After World War I, the Nation's economic recovery was astounding. Technical innovations, mass  production techniques, easy credit, and increased wages translated into a consumer society and an expanding middle class through the Roaring '20s, with a concurrent increase in solid waste to be managed. Municipalities began to realize some sort of citywide waste collection and disposal service was needed and began providing such services. But, by the late 1920s, waste collection and disposal costs had soared in the wake of expanding city limits, forcing local governments to begin looking for ways to curb those costs. Focus, however, was directed toward contracting out such services and implementing mechanized collection rather than development of integrated waste management systems. During this  period, municipalities began using transfer stations to centralize wastes and use larger vehicles, barges, and railroads to transport waste from the transfer station to a disposal site. 24  From the beginning of the Great Depression to the end of World War II, various state laws and court rulings prohibited certain disposal practices. For instance, in 1934, the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling requiring New York City to cease disposal of its municipal waste at sea. In the 1930s, California passed laws prohibiting disposal of garbage within 20 miles of shore. 26 While these actions may have helped remove refuse from the waters near America's shores, they did not address the real question, What is the best way to manage solid waste? For most of the country, landfills continued to be the primary method for waste disposal. While collection and disposal responsibility rested primarily with local governments, cities were finding it increasingly difficult to manage the waste generated as populations, consumerism, and industry grew. Open dumps, with the resulting fires, odors, and vermin problems, were still in use in many locations. While it was  becoming quite apparent that a national emphasis on waste management was needed, it was not until 1953 that any sort of recommended national guidelines for waste disposal sites were published. These guidelines were based, in part, on sanitary fill methods developed during World War II. 30  Even with criteria in place, most of the nation was slow to adopt them. In 1956, only about 37% of the landfills in the country were making an effort to follow the guidelines. 31   1965 - 1991: It's time to change the focus of the waste management problem.   For 200 years, waste management concerns were addressed by answering the question, What can't be done with garbage? While answers to this question may have been adequate for a rural America, those answers were entirely inadequate to address increasing urbanization and the significant increases in solid waste to be managed. Because solid waste was here to stay, it was necessary for the nation to make a fundamental shift in its thinking by asking, What can be done with garbage that will protect both health and the environment? In 1976, Congress expanded the federal government's roll in waste management by passing the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), to be implemented by EPA. The goals of RCRA were to protect the environment, conserve resources, and reduce the amount of waste being generated. RCRA was divided into various Subtitles, two of which dealt directly with waste management issues. Subtitle C required development of a comprehensive hazardous waste management scheme to ensure those wastes were safely managed from the moment they were generated until final disposal (affectionately known as cradle-to-grave ). Subtitle D was designed to deal with disposal of non-hazardous wastes and ensure non-hazardous waste disposal sites were constructed in a manner to greatly reduce environmental impacts. 40  In 1980, in response to RCRA Subtitle C, EPA promulgated its first regulations for the management of hazardous waste. The regulations implemented several requirements: identification of solid and hazardous wastes, standards for generators of hazardous waste, standards for transporters of hazardous waste, standards for hazardous waste disposal facilities, and requirements that must be met to receive permits to operate a hazardous waste disposal facility. While specific details regarding the standards are well beyond the scope of this article, the standards clearly spelled out the cradle-to-grave management goal for hazardous waste. In 1984, Congress amended RCRA by passing the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984 (HSWA). HSWA not only put into effect tough, new requirements for hazardous waste management and disposal, but also mandated that EPA develop criteria for new solid waste landfills to drastically reduce the likelihood that new Superfund sites would be created due to poorly constructed and operated landfills. Thus, in 1991 EPA promulgated a regulatory framework for the construction and operation of landfills receiving municipal solid waste. The criteria required all existing municipal waste landfills in the nation to either: (1) install a comprehensive groundwater and gas monitoring program, establish financial assurance to ensure funds were available for proper closure and monitoring after closure, and meet certain operational requirements; or (2) close. New landfills were required to be constructed with an engineered liner system capable of preventing landfill liquids from migrating into groundwater, in addition to implementing the groundwater and gas monitoring, financial assurance, and more stringent operational requirements. From a regulatory standpoint, the open dump was finally history.
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