This category includes establishments that are primarily engaged in the collection and disposal of solid waste. Firms in the industry operate incinerators, solid waste treatment plants, hazardous waste facilities, landfills, and other disposal sites and services. Companies that only collect and transport waste without such disposal are classified in SIC 4212: Local Trucking Without Storage.
Solid Waste Collection
Hazardous Waste Collection
Materials Recovery Facilities
Other Waste Collection
Hazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal
Solid Waste Landfills
Solid Waste Combustors and Incinerators
Other Nonhazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the mid-2000s the United States produced more than 236 million tons of waste annually (before recycling), equal to about 4.5 pounds per individual per day—up from 2.7 pounds per individual in 1960. When reclamation through recycling and composting is factored in, which more than doubled between 1990 and the mid-2000s, usage dropped to just over three pounds per person, down from 3.75 pounds per person in 1990. By category, solid waste was composed of containers and packaging products (31.7 percent), nondurable goods (26.3 percent), durable goods (16.7 percent), yard trimmings (12.1 percent), food scraps (11.7 percent), and other waste (1.5). Of all solid waste, 30 percent is recycled or composted, 14 percent is burned, and the remaining 56 percent is deposited in landfills.
By the mid-2000s waste disposal had become big business, generating approximately $42 billion in industry revenues. Although the industry was highly fragmented, with thousands of small operators involved in the industry, regional and even national firms were gradually expanding their territories through mergers and acquisitions. The number of landfills continued to decline, but the size of landfills had grown tremendously so that overcapacity had not shifted significantly.
The refuse industry traditionally has been fragmented in comparison to other businesses. Organizations range from local firms and government bodies that manage consumer garbage to companies that handle hazardous and specialty waste. However, from the mid-1990s on, there was a trend toward acquisition of smaller firms and privatization of former municipal efforts, which often were absorbed by large private companies. Municipal and government entities, which owned 85 percent of landfills in the early 1990s, owned less than 70 percent by 1997. By the mid-2000s about 60 percent of municipal waste was managed by private firms, and eight of the nation's ten largest landfills by daily volume were privately owned in 2004.
The two largest segments of the refuse management market are municipal solid waste (MSW) and hazardous waste. MSW includes non-hazardous garbage discarded by homes, businesses, and governments. In 1997, 217 million tons of MSW was generated across the nation, constituting eight million tons more than in 1996. The largest part of trash was paper and yard trimmings, which accounted for 51 percent of all MSW. By 1999, nearly 30 percent of MSW was recycled. Recycled solid waste prevents the release of more than 33 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year.
Hazardous waste includes liquid and solid materials that are toxic or radioactive. Liquid waste commonly emanates from nuclear energy facilities and U.S. Department of Defense activities. Solid waste often comes from mining and milling operations (especially from extracting uranium ore), sludge in abandoned storage tanks, and contaminated equipment and structures. Large amounts of both solid and liquid hazardous materials also emanate from chemical, medical, and petroleum industry activities, as well as from the mishandling of those wastes by businesses, governments, and consumers.
By 1998, landfills were managing about 55 percent of MSW, 30 percent was being recycled, and 15 percent was combusted. In raw figures, this meant that approximately 60 million tons of material were recycled rather than dumped into landfills or incinerated. The highest recycle recovery rates are batteries (93.3 percent) and paper/paperboard products (41.7 percent). About 41 percent of yard trimmings are also recycled.
Like MSW, most hazardous waste is sent to landfills. Various types of toxic waste are also incinerated and even recycled. Solid waste landfills differ from MSW fills in that they are usually built to contain the waste for a long period of time, and a greater effort is made to break down or neutralize the refuse, thus making hazardous waste fills more expensive to build and operate. Highly radioactive waste may be sealed in special drums or tanks where it can be held indefinitely.
Prior to the industrialization of the United States, most people managed their own waste. Garden and organic waste was composted and used as fertilizer and soil conditioner. Scrap wood, glass, metal, and other debris were often taken to a local dump or burned on one's property. A garbage collection and landfill industry emerged, however, as industrialization occurred and large urban areas began to develop in the 1800s. In fact, WMX Technologies, Inc., one of the largest refuse companies in the world, originated in 1894 as a collector of Chicago's waste.
The waste disposal industry flourished after World War II. As the U.S. economy and population expanded, so did the amount of garbage produced per capita. By 1960, in fact, Americans were discarding a combined total of over 100 million tons of garbage per year, prompting some people to call the United States the "disposable society." In order to handle mass quantities of garbage created by the new suburban consumer society that evolved in the 1950s and 1960s, municipalities began building large numbers of landfills and incinerators. By the early 1970s, 300 to 400 municipal landfills were opening each year.
During the 1970s, the MSW environment began to change. In addition to the fact that many landfills were becoming saturated, environmental problems began to plague landfill operators. Some landfills were emitting hazardous gases and fluids that were...