I just came across the book by H. Lanier Hickman, Jr., American Alchemy: The History of Solid Waste Management in the United States, Forester Press, Santa Barbara, 2003.  The discussion of the history of solid waste management is excellent, and will tie-in to some future discussion.

There’s an interesting review of this book, here.  Here are some interesting excerpts from the review:

Hickman’s newest offering, American Alchemy: The History of Solid Waste Management in the United
States reveals his strengths and his weaknesses. His strength is in his discussion of solid waste
technologies and in his exp lanation of historical developments in the field. His weakness is that his
long-time advocacy of waste-to-energy plants and a top-down public policy strategy blinds him both to
the effectiveness of alternatives and to the bottom- up public policy efforts that have led these to
become a key element in solid waste planning.

Hickman’s focuses exclusively on the federal role in solid waste management and ignores the grass
roots recycling movement except to criticize it for its short-sighted and ill-informed opposition to
garbage incinerators.

Hickman claims that the rising costs of solid waste management in cities that have incinerators is a
result of the cost of recycling programs. That is not true. Incinerators were too expensive to begin
with. The only way they could justify the enormous capital expense was to sign very long term
contracts and for communities to force waste collectors to dump their waste at the incinerators. When
the Supreme Court declared such “flow control” ordinances unconstitutional, the incinerators had to
lower their tip fee and local businesses and residents had to make up the difference. Residents of
Montgomery County, MD must pay an annual household surcharge to cover the losses from the
incinerator.


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