In our century
In March 1910, The American City published the first of a seven-part series about the importance and general practices of collecting and disposing municipal solid waste. Written by William Morse, a consulting sanitary engineer, the series described how cities and towns were managing the food waste, discarded items and ashes from residences, as well as the debris that collected in the streets, about half of which was animal waste.
Proper sanitation practices, the author wrote, were important for beautification as well as public health, as demonstrated by typhoid epidemics in four American cities that had been caused by contaminated food and water supplies. And, if those reasons were not enough for city leaders’ action, “Certainly there is [no other city service] wherein neglect, delay, or interruption of the work causes greater annoyance, or calls forth more vigorous protest from the people,” Morse wrote.
Many cities contracted with private haulers to collect household waste, but they often failed to manage them closely. Without oversight, service could be unreliable or irresponsible, so a growing number of cities were either limiting the number of contractors or doing the work themselves. Several cities paid contractors to collect paper, in particular, removing a large volume of household waste from the municipal disposal stream and allowing those companies to keep the profits from selling the paper for reuse.
As engineering schools began adding the subject of “civic cleanliness and sanitary treatment and disposal of municipal waste” to their curriculum, a growing number of professionals were joining cities with new ideas for disposal methods that reduced the volume of garbage, recovered valuable elements — such as grease and oil — and eased collection for residents.