The future of; 24; The Future of Trash and Garbage
Go codes for the world future society presenting another in a series of discussions of alternative futures. The subject for this evening's discussion is the future of trash and garbage. We'll begin with a question to the audience. If you consider what municipal expenditures are in the United States what three items are ranked highest. Well you're right if you said education first you're right if you thought highways second you might be surprised to learn that the third ranking municipal expenditure is on trash garbage and waste removal some three and a half billion dollars per year is spent by the municipalities of the United States on the removal of solid waste. To discuss the present in the future of this problem we have with us this evening Jim Janice and Leo Weaver. Mr. Genesis is a special assistant in the environmental health services for the public health service of the United States Department of Health Education and Welfare. He's an engineer by training holding a bachelor's degree in the University of Pittsburgh and a master of science and environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University. Our other discussion is Leo Weaver
director of the Washington office of the American Public Works Association general manager of the Institute for solid waste. Mr. Weaver is a nationally recognized authority on solid waste and the author of numerous publications in that field. Well let's begin what is trash in garbage Jim. Just a reverse definition. You seem to have a corner and definitely on what is right. Well I think I would describe simply garbage and trash being physical discards that have no value. Perhaps even a state of mind being important as to what is trash and garbage because what might be worthless to you is worth something to somebody else. But essentially a physical discard with a negative value is a simple concise definition. So how big is the problem. Jim I think you had something to say all round.
It depends on what you want include a solid waste we have some figures for. The amount collected from from municipal from from cities and homes in residential areas is something around 200 million tons per year. Industrial waste sat about another hundred ten million tons mineral agricultural but the total comes up to about three and a half three three and a half billion tons per year. For two hundred million people that's about seventeen point five tons per person per year which is just an enormous amount so the average American you go through poor people is putting out about 50 tons of waste a year or averaged over the nation around that. Yeah that averages that the average person in his personal environment is has is responsible for around what five point three pounds per person per day. Something something I don't want to do considering that in the urban area the industrial and commercial industrial mean large manufacturing complexes and
commercial we mean such insulated or installations as a store or a supermarket or department store or something like that is included slag out of mines and that's always does that also with us all the way through the overall total under three minutes. Really it was my my billion. My three and a half billion figure dollars. Yes that's it. But if you if you think in terms of what you and I might produce in our homes and then we're talking about anything from a half ton to a ton of material a year or two to three pounds per person per calendar day and this this varies a great deal too depending on what the collection agency whether it be municipal or private will collect. Well certainly the numbers are impressive I think any number with six or seven zeros after it's impressive but is it really a problem. What is the issue that seems to be exciting more and more people
with regard to trash and garbage. Incidentally I'm going to insist on trash and garbage rather than solid waste. Jim what other problems really. Well the way I generally describe them I look at the just the very fact of you know as you said a number with 6 million and 0 0 0 I'm sorry to waste when you talk about this always comes from I was pretty foul stuff it's not something in the abstract that we can i was going to bring some today. We're going to make sure that we were keeping on the right track it's not. It's just recently become somewhat of a glamour issue it's not really very glamorous. If you look at some of the many facets that I call of the solid way stories use a reference problem of the fact that it's a that are handling mishandling of solid waste causes an air pollution problem and a water pollution problem and I can go into some of these in Norway people doing that already get air pollution if we let it run into the ground to get where I'm going collecting that we create a noise pollution problem
and an occupational health problem because the rate of accidents among people who work in this field is something like 10 times the national frequency rate it's even higher than underground mining. And so this is this is the way I have to look as an environmentalist I can look at the problem but as Mr. Weaver looks at it more towards the the really the physical handling of solid waste what do you do with it. He might speak to that. Well yes that's that's a good good point. What do you do with it if it's there if it continues to pile up. And if you want to first hand experience why it's just a matter of looking into your own kitchen and the garbage or trash basket even if you have a food waste grinder installed in the in the sink system why that basket seems to fill up almost before you. Well you've emptied it. Then you turn around and it's almost full again. Tremendous quantities
of materials of of the single use items like milk cartons beverage containers convenience items of frozen food all of which have had a tremendous impact on our standard of living in and have resulted in a lot less drudgery I guess to the housewife What is the per capita production of trash in garbage increasing fast increasing. Or is it just it becoming a problem because the population is bigger. Both both. But it's also it's been it's really in the last 10 15 years have we done something as dramatic as double the amount of waste per capita or is there some handy figure for that. The amount of material has increased Yes. I'm not sure that it's doubled but it but it increased by 50 percent in any case and it will be will have doubled within a very short span of years if we continue the way we're going maybe we have a genetic defect or garbage producers we can breed it out of the
ground to produce incidentally more garbage in this country than almost anything else. But even still That's right. Well what's wrong with a simple straightforward solution like rotting away and bury. Well in many instances there's nothing wrong with doing just that. But unfortunately in the past we've been reluctant to even do that. We approach this thing with a kind of a minimum application of technology a minimum funding a minimum of attention. The average goal of the individual who is responsible for handling this in the community say would be to get rid of it as cheaply as possible with and as quickly as possible with a minimum amount of nuisance. So what happens to it now in fact. Well for the most part we're just positing it largely in discriminatory on the land. In one way or another we're we're burning it
and not burning it very well and. Polluting the air with the results of the combustion. As I recall Jim there was a study done by a GW not too long ago. I've said the exact figure is what what was it about 94 percent. We consider of the Solid Waste operations in this country are are somehow deficient either by presenting an air pollution problem or water pollution problem or something else like we found in our national survey which has not been completed yet it's the national survey is still under way but from that the preliminary data that came in we found that only six of them mapped one with six percent of them met what one would consider adequate. You're not talking about a literal handling if you will. Yeah maybe it might be considered a misuse of the word but of what formal disposal sites recognize yet either municipal a privately operated dam does not include littering and all the other so if you counted the promiscuous dumps and you use the
term you risk us why we're talking tens of thousands of disposal sites in addition aren't we. Yes you're right. So I take it that a basic go in improving the disposal of trash and garbage is to avoid burning it. Is that a fair thing to say that we want to avoid burning to avoid burning it. If you cannot control the air pollution that results from burning it in a large city such as a Manhattan Island if you can't find a landfill area there and you're going to either have to produce an incinerator which does not significantly contribute to air contamination or you're going to have to cart it off further and further and further away which certainly raises the right are good to New York what's the matter with with you make a bid as a virtually infinite sink for the track. Well we're not sure of the facts of the ecology of the ocean. When you continually dump this in and there's some recent controversy on
the shores of New Jersey I read in the paper recently that the governor of New Jersey has asked everyone to go 10 miles out and wanted to dump anything or Hundred Mile some. Well it's a longer larger than I thought it would be. So we have a host of them we have a dump trash and garbage as we think of trash and garbage as it's generated in my kitchens and soon in the ocean for many years back and as long ago as in 1936 and this was quickly prohibited by a Supreme Court decision. Thank case New Jersey versus New York City. If you were a youngster and grew up along anywhere close to the New Jersey beaches why in the 30s if you went down to swim why you always had the opportunity to trip over an old shoe or fall over a tire. But nonetheless there are many kinds of solid waste which are dumps right. So a lot of them and jetsam from from the highway or the sewage sludge which is taken out of the various kinds of materials industrial wastes
what have you that are disposed to here in the ocean the Washington Star recently reported a Stony Brook University study which said that there were eight point six million tons of material thrown annually into the Atlantic Ocean up to five miles out at sea from the New York area. Presumably the New York area alone. So evidently the ocean is a sink for some of it now. Well it again this gets into to what you call solid waste if you're talking about municipal refuse son. I don't think there's a whole lot of that going out but the sewage lines and things. Thank you. Well it seems to me that one approach to dealing with the solid waste problem is just to make less of it. Are is it feasible in any major areas to make less waste for example with beverage bottles. Could we constrain the industry or put premiums on the bottle so that there was just less of it around. Well this is this is a very. An important consideration when you look at it that appears to be fairly simple on the
surface why not do this. Why not put incentives of one kind or another which encourage us to use returnable materials or returnable bottles and what have you. Well what what what does this encounter allow encounters storekeepers who who don't like to handle returnable models for example encounters the fact that we're operating in an economy where people apparently are more willing to throw even bottles with a 2 or 3 cent deposit on them away rather than return in large numbers up to the point where one state in recent years had a law which prohibited the use of. Non-returnable bottles and the net result was that it was determined that this had no effect on the litter in that state and the law was repealed. You know but if you operate on the assumption that there ain't no free lunch. The public is
still paying for the disposal of those bottles one way or the other certain and it may very well be that the New England experience only argues that the premium wasn't high enough rather than arguing that the principle doesn't work. As I recall a figure put out by Keep America Beautiful last year was the bill for picking up litter along the nation's main highway it was something like 60 million dollars last year. It's right in the New York City figure. According to the commissioner was a dollar around a dollar per piece of litter. That was I think a little hard on this business of eliminating the refuse and the waste. Are you saying Leah Weaver that in fact you don't see that premiums or economic penalties or economic incentives are going to be a way of reducing waste at the consumer end of the problem. It is a way yes. Joe the thing you run up against here is your dealing with social logical trends I
believe that are quite significant in their recent development. You're talking about TV dinners for example which come in throw away type of container aluminum tray right. You're talking about convenience items of let's say an orange juice container which has a an aluminum top with a quick opening convenience ring on the top cardboard side and perhaps a steel bottom. All of which was designed for at least purportedly for your or my convenience. The question is will you and I as citizens throw our support behind something like this in the direction that you're talking about so that economically it will be feasible to do it. I take it your other post mystic that we could do this because of the growing leisure and convenience specular so well. No actually no actually I think I'd be very optimistic. What about you
Jim. I was going to say that you have somewhat of a choice if you want to go back to the old general store with the pickle barrel in which you pick out a few pickles or do you want to get them in pretty fancy plastic wrap job bottles and jars. And as Mr. Weaver said it's our society that that that that produces these I don't know whether they're artificial ransom needs maybe. Maybe everyone Reich would like to have a large cheddar cheese thing where you go walk into the store and pick up a slice or not. But in the supermarkets today I don't I just don't see it. What about this incredible situation with the polyvinyl chloride bottle. Everyone I think more or less agrees that polyvinyl chloride is almost completely intractable as far as biodegrade ability goes. It's the sort of thing that's going to be around a long time yet manufacturers are planning to put out polyvinyl chloride bottles. Now it seems to me here's a singular opportunity for federal programs or others to make that legally impossible. So here's a nascent problem a
budding solid waste problem which could be stopped before it starts. Is it feasible to do this do you. Are government programs permitted to do. Right now we just conducted I personally conducted somewhat of a small study on the problem of polyvinyl chloride that in case the audience doesn't know the reason for the concern with polyvinyl chloride is that one of the products of combustion of PVC is hydrogen chloride gas which is a toxic gas and it is recently been noted that that it's on the increase from the increase in the concentrations of hydrogen chloride any air around Esperance in arrears are higher now because there is more polyvinyl chloride in the waste coming in. We did a study as I said in the government to see what authority when least 80 W had. In this area. And as far as I can tell in this study one can been
completed but. As far as the legal authority today if a large soft drink manufacturer said that he was going to switch over to polyvinyl chloride bottles then I could say I'd try to talk him out of it but I have no legal authority as far as I know to say you know on a lot of do it I don't know if I grant that authority however I'm not so sure that that at least right now that that what you suggest is going to happen. I don't know whether or maybe you know something I don't but there's a gym there's a tremendous capability in our in and industrial know how. And it seems to me that the area that we have been very very remiss in not following up is that. In terms of industrial responsibility the responsibility stopped when it was the products given to the user. And somehow or other we've got to change our
thinking so that this design takes into account what will happen after the user you're not a consumer really you don't consume the things you use them. What happens after we use them. Is it is it possible we talk about a bad automobile. I think there were some figures What were they about the number of automobiles about you know you a thousand a week in New York City New York City and it was 7 million a year in the country and magine picking up picking up a thousand automobiles a week in one city and the problems of transporting them. I know there's a lot of valuable materials in an automobile. A lot of valuable material copper aluminum let alone the first materials the the iron that can be recycled in the seat of steel making process well is it conceivable that incidentally you mention air pollution when you say when you started Jim. And of course one of the problems of recycling an automobile is it
has a lot of contaminated materials the plastics and what have you in the interior What do you do with these somehow or other they have to be removed. They can't contaminate the steel process but you can't burn them in the open candle that's cracked and you get that way. Most people I think have seen this thick black smoke coming from these junked auto stores it's really quite revolting. Well why why isn't it possible for example that Iran will be able can't be designed so that it has a central area of that that the wiring can be stripped from it more easily with the idea that you know this has a design with observations not only designed for obsolescence it's good design for destruction. I think well perhaps Joe would be better to say design for review or salvage rights I know that I don't know if anybody doing anything serious along those lines. Yes there's there's a great deal of attention being placed to that I think probably because of the groundswell of
interest and conservation which has been in evidence in very recent years in this country. I just heard last week about a process designed by a nationally known Rubber Company which would facilitate the use of tires you know the tires are anathema to a municipal official and so we take that reuse to reuse Yes because they it's very difficult to Baarn them they create dense black smoke and you can't do this in the open without causing problems. You try and bury them and they they tend to work up to the surface again and as I recall it was something like 200 million automobile tires that had to be handled last year. That's what it is when I go someplace and you know we were talking about of polyvinyl chloride Well synthetic rubber doesn't deteriorate much more quickly so this notion you're saying is one which somehow or other right in the manufacture of the tire would facilitate putting a retread on it or making a new
tire or reclaim tire of it. Are there other examples of this sort of thing. Yes just recently one of the large aluminum companies you know aluminum is very valuable. And when scrap is very valuable What is difficult I think Jim mentioned a little while ago it quoted a figure in New York about picking up an aluminum can. Well not an aluminum can but any piece of litter. Yes you would it was if you sell a dollar piece a dollar apiece. Well this is quite expensive. Well in Los Angeles for example just some months ago the large well-known company. Was offering a half cent premium to volunteer organizations who would bring aluminum cans to a designated collection point you see the volunteer aspect taking making it economical for them to collect them. This is something else. Another thing that human was is rather fascinating is that you know you talk about these large amounts of tailing tailing mining
waste and what have you use in the billions of tons of waste per year. Well actually we're mining more copper above ground now than we were mining copper from underground simply by doing better refining of our of the waste piles that are above the ground. So there is something going on but it's not nearly enough. There's nearly enough. There's other research of to try to eliminate them. One of the. The problems of the bottles to create a disposable bottle one that one when it drops and breaks will dissolve in water and leave some solid material which is a somewhat Kate or sandal type Mattel your material and just a little bit the little thin strip of thought of covering. But if you think about it this is another direction we can go it's not always do we have to go in the area into the field of reuse. I think it would be interesting at this point to look at what large scale or grand plane thinking is going on with regard to solid waste management. Leo I believe you
participated in the National Research Council study called policies for solid waste management and I think that that study set out for objective was first to improve the quality and coverage of removal. Secondly to improve the efficiency of the operations through mechanization and less labor. Thirdly to improve the accident rate which I think Jim mentioned earlier is very high. And finally to economically recover an adequately process recycle the increasing portion of solid waste. I think that was the point you last made Leo. It's interesting that the recommendations that supported these objectives. They seem to me to focus mostly on education and improve management and to some extent on research and development. Would it be fair to conclude that the problem is not one which is technologically
limited but it is more or less administratively legally limited very very largely So we are not doing today that which we know how to do in many many instances you recall that Jim mentioned a number of disposal sites that were not operated in accordance with. What might be considered healthful criteria. We're not doing that because somehow or other we haven't faced up to the need for it in terms of money and manpower. There are many problems you asked the question about whether this was a primarily technological it's political it's social logical. We have instances of communities who tried to go along on their own course rather than coming together and working together because of certain political jurisdictional restraints where they could do the job better if they work together rather than singly. There's instances
of lack of provision of the type of service that people I think have every right to expect. And the net result of this is you see if you if you have material and you have no place to put it. This increases the problem of indiscriminate disposal or we call it littering there. Yeah promiscuous dumping. So this was one very important aspect that we felt that had to be a better handle today regardless of what the future might hold. We can do things better today. We just don't need to litter our roads and throw material indiscriminately into the environment. We can do it better. Jim are there some federal programs or federal legislation to put teeth into these go. Yes I hope so. But one thing in along with what live sand as I always say that there are two ways of pronouncing r e f us easy one is refuse and the other is refuse. And this is what we've done in this country as a people have closed
their eyes they refuse to realize that there's a serious problem and when you pick up the garbage at your home you don't let it go somewhere or something happens to it. But the federal government activity is in the solid waste field and stem from the solid waste Act of 1965 which. Gives the secretary of AGW the authority to conduct research and specifically this is handled in the Public Health Service the Environmental Health Service and the our bureau of solid waste management is responsible for conducting the studies or research studies the technical assistance to states and industries and just anybody who really comes in and they they also give planning grants to various states so that the states will enable we'll have enough or some funds to hire a few planners and decide you know what should we do what is solid waste management how do we how are we going to handle the problems of solid handling our solid waste in Pennsylvania or Maryland or wherever.
I just know that any success us it has we've got a lot of people thinking about the problems and talking about them we've we've had some of the most basic services I think that that that has been rendered through this act as a we are beginning to correct some pretty decent data. I run these numbers that we've used here today are really guesstimates and estimates and through the solid waste act of the planning grants that we've done one of the one of the directors it's for getting a planning grant is that the state must assure us that that it's going to provide us with good data on how much it costs them to run its own waste plants and we also cannot do a lot of research we're doing a large research project in Johnson City Texas to. Try to understand the problems of composting. Is that a good process for handling we have training grants that are set up in 12 universities
across the country trying to provide people knowledgeable well-educated people with master's degrees doctor's degrees and in environmental engineering specifically majoring in solid waste management. Well thank you Jim Janice and Leo Weaver This is certainly the trashiest program we've had had in the series and we thank you for your provocative and stimulating material. This is the national educational radio network.
- The future of
- Episode Number
- The Future of Trash and Garbage
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- No description available
- Social Issues
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 71-7-24 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- APA: The future of; 24; The Future of Trash and Garbage. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-gx44vt78