Every American City

"Every American city, up until about the middle of the twentieth century, dumped its rejects on nearby scraps of low-value land."— Elizabeth Royte, science and nature writer.

Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. New York: Little, Brown, 2005, p. 50.

Various other environmental controls were put in place in the 1990s that again impacted the U.S. waste management system. In October 1991, for example, the EPA established regulations for municipal solid waste landfills that required a bottom liner and a system to collect and treat leachate—liquid wastes that seep through landfills—to protect groundwater. New EPA rules also imposed restrictions on landfill locations, preventing them from being placed near airports (to reduce the risk of planes colliding with birds that are attracted to landfill areas), in wetlands, in floodplains, or on earthquake faults, and set minimum landfill design and operation standards that included monitoring of groundwater to prevent contamination. These new controls dramatically changed the way garbage is processed in America. Most small waste management companies could not afford to operate under the new mandates, but bigger operators saw them as an opportunity to compete for the trash business of many cities and municipalities.

This consolidation process produced a system of waste management in which the majority of the nation's trash business belongs to several large corporations. In fact, just three companies—Waste Management, Allied Waste, and Republic Services—collect more than half the nation's trash at various locations around the country. And instead of using a number of smaller landfills located close to garbage sources, these large cor-

In order to help regulate the disposal of municipal garbage, President Richard M. Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, which became the central federal agency regulating issues relating to waste management.

porations developed a system of trucking trash long distances to mega-landfills where they could achieve greater economies of scale and make larger profits. Not surprisingly, the number of active landfill sites in the United States has shrunk considerably. According to the Web site Blue Egg, "In 1988, there were nearly 8,000 landfills across the country; in 1999, there were 2,314; and by 2005, there were only 1,654."4

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