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Solid waste management is a polite term for garbage management. As long as humans have been living in settled communities, solid waste, or garbage, has been an issue, and modern societies generate far more solid waste than early humans ever did. Daily life in industrialized nations can generate several pounds (kilograms) of solid waste per consumer, not only directly in the home, but indirectly in factories that manufacture goods purchased by consumers. Solid waste management is a system for handling all of this garbage, and includes municipal waste collection, recycling programs, dumps, and incinerators.
To the great benefit of archeology, early methods of waste management consisted of digging pits and throwing garbage into them. This created a record of the kinds of lives that people lived, showing things like what people ate, the materials used to make eating utensils, and other interesting glimpses into historic daily life. When human cities began to be more concentrated, however, dealing with the garbage became a serious issue. Houses that did not have room to bury their trash would throw it into the streets, making a stroll to the corner store an unpleasant prospect. In response, many cities started to set up municipal garbage collection, in the form of rag and bone men who would buy useful garbage from people and recycle it, or waste collection teams that would dispose of unusable waste.
For most industrialized nations today, solid waste management is a multibillion dollar business that is also crucial to survival. Garbage collection agencies remove tons of garbage yearly and sort it for recycling or ultimate disposal. Most cities require citizens to pay for waste collection, while rural areas have dumps and recycling facilities for citizens to bring their garbage to. The end goal is a reduction of the amount of garbage clogging the streets and polluting the environment, whether that garbage is disposed of or recycled into something useful. Management of solid waste also is focused on developing environmentally sound methods of handling garbage; for example, solid waste is no longer dumped into oceans or unlined pits.
There are a number of types of solid waste that need to be dealt with. The first is recyclable waste, objects which are useful, but no longer wanted. To deal with such goods, facilities must be constructed to recycle these items, which include scrap metal, glass, cans, paper, plastics, wood, and similar materials. Another category is toxic waste — waste that could potentially contaminate the environment, meaning that it needs to be handled with care. This category includes electronic waste, a growing problem in many industrialized nations. Next is green waste, such as compost and yard clippings. People with land can compost their own green waste, and many cities collect it separately from true garbage, the final category, so that the green waste can be composted and returned to the earth.
The majority of solid waste is collected in bins ranging in size from household trash cans to industrial dumpsters, which are filled by individuals or companies. Solid waste collection trucks move through the streets on regular schedules to collect these bins. Garbage is also collected by street sweeping agencies, volunteer cleanup organizations, and through consumers who bring their waste directly to the solid waste management company. Once solid waste is collected, it is routed to a recycling facility, a garbage facility that can handle toxic waste, composting center, or disposed of. Many companies maintain large dumps for this purpose, while others incinerate their garbage, using the energy generated by the incinerator to run a recycling plant or feed power back into the electrical grid.