It's been a few weeks since I posted The History of Garbage, Part 1 and I figured it's about time I followed up with more of the story.
When I last left off, I was describing how in 1900, American cities began to estimate and record collected wastes. According to one estimate, each American produced annually up to 1,400 pounds per person. Around the same time, 180 garbage incinerators were built in cities across the U.S. and small and medium sized towns built piggeries, where swine were fed fresh or cooked garbage.
Here are some of the highlights of the first half of the 20th Century, including some new "disposable" inventions:
As early as 1904, large-scale aluminum recycling began in Chicago and Cleveland while Montgomery Ward started mailing out 3 million catalogues weighing four pounds each. By 1916, major cities estimated that of the 1,000 to 1,750 pounds of waste generated by each person per year, 80% was coal and wood ash. During the 1920s, "reclaiming" or filling wetlands near cities with garbage, ash and dirt became a popular disposal method.
In the 1930s, polystyrene and Plexiglas were invented, a new plastic called polyvinyl chloride was introduced, and disposable sanitary pads were developed by Kimberly Clark. Additionally, the DuPont Company patented nylon, the world's first synthetic fiber. Its strength, resistance to moisture and mildew, and good recovery after stretching lead to its use in stockings, electrical parts, power tools and car accessories.
Back in 1933, communities on the New Jersey shore sought and obtained a court order forcing New York City to stop dumping garbage in the Atlantic Ocean, but this applied only to municipal waste, not commercial or industrial wastes.
The 1940s brought WWII rationing as well as Styrofoam, ballpoint pens and the aerosol can. On the other hand, the amount of coal and wood ash in the garbage dropped down to 43% of New York City's refuse.
Capping off the first half of the 20th Century, the Fresh Kills landfill was opened in Staten Island, New York. It later became the world's largest city dump. Fresh Kills and the Great Wall of China are the only man-made objects visible from space.
This era can best be summed up by J. Gordon Lippincott, an industrial designer:
"Our willingness to part with something before it is completely worn out is a phenomenon noticeable in no other society in history... It is soundly based on our economy of abundance. It must be further nurtured even through it runs contrary to one of the oldest inbred laws of humanity, the law of thrift."