Garbage and Refuse Disposal, the collection and dumping or destruction of food waste and other discarded material. The proper disposal of such wastes is important because they contain matter that can decompose quickly and create unsanitary conditions. In urban areas, the wastes are usually picked up at least once a week for disposal. In some cities this service is operated by private companies; in others, by a department of the city government.
The most common method of disposal is to haul garbage and refuse to a designated dumping site. In the United States, open land dumps have been banned, and the dumping site must be a landfill. At a landfill, wastes are crushed (to reduce their volume) and covered every day with a layer of earth. The layer of earth reduces odors from the site and keeps off such disease-carrying pests as flies and rats. A landfill site must be carefully chosen so that drainage from the landfill will not pollute water supplies.
Another common method of disposal is to burn garbage and refuse in community or private incinerators. Some coastal cities dispose of wastes by dumping them at sea.
The disposal of garbage and refuse has become a serious problem in many areas. Many landfills have reached their capacity; others have been improperly maintained and have been closed for being health hazards. The use of incinerators can cause pollution of the air, and disposal at sea can cause pollution of ocean waters and beaches. At the same time, the amount of garbage and refuse that must be disposed of continues to increase.
Some communities have developed methods for using garbage and refuse as a fuel. The wastes are burned in specially designed furnaces to produce steam. The steam is then used either to generate electricity or to provide heat for industrial processes.
Other communities have promoted recycling and composting as a means of reducing the volume of wastes. Recycling consists of processing discarded products to obtain materials for new products. Such products as newspapers, glass containers, and aluminum cans are very suitable for recycling. In the most common kind of recycling operation, products that are to be recycled are not discarded with other refuse; instead they are taken to a central collection point called a recycling center. The materials collected at the center are then sold to various manufacturers. In composting, grass clippings, leaves, and other organic matter are mixed with layers of soil to promote decomposition of the organic matter. The resulting material is used as mulch and fertilizer.