Solid Waste Management

Despite success in recycling, large amounts of municipal solid wastes (MSW), commonly known as trash or garbage, are generated by homes, businesses, hospitals, schools, and other facilities. This tool describes how municipalities can use modern technologies and practices in the collection, transport, processing and disposal of MSW.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2010 Americans were responsible for creating approximately 250 million tons of trash and recycled or composted over 85 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.1 percent recycling and composting rate. On average, we recycle and compost 1.51 pounds out of our individual waste generation of 4.43 pounds per person per day. While the EPA's statistics found that the generation of MSW peaked in 2000 at 4.72 pounds per person per day, we are still consistently generating well over four pounds per person per day.

Waste material must be managed in an environmentally responsible and cost-effective manner. Historically, MSW was typically deposited in landfills or incinerated. Both these methodologies had the potential for damaging the environment due to toxins leaching from landfills or air pollution from incineration. Current disposal technologies have reduced the potential for environmental contamination; modern landfills typically contain liners and other means to prevent environmental damage, and some capture landfill gas to be burned as a fuel to generate electricity. Incineration can also include "waste-to-energy" systems that use MSW to fuel furnaces that generate electricity. However, both these technologies still have the potential to release atmospheric pollutants if not properly controlled.


The benefits of proper management of MSW include the following:


The following limitations can be associated with MSW programs:

Issues to Consider

Landfilling and incineration of MSW has become less convenient and less cost-effective due to expensive environmental protection requirements, escalating collection and transportation costs and high land costs. Municipalities can consider the following alternatives to conventional MSW processing, or consider them as adjuncts to such conventional practices:


solid waste

This engine burns landfill gas to generate electricity.

Pennsylvania Act 101, the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act, was adopted in July, 1988 and mandates recycling in Pennsylvania's municipalities. The Act requires counties to develop municipal waste management plans, and provides for grants to offset expenses. The goals of the Act are to reduce Pennsylvania`s municipal waste generation, recycle at least 25 percent of waste (a goal that has generally been met), procure and use recycled and recyclable materials in state governmental agencies and educate the public about the benefits of recycling and waste reduction.

Municipalities with populations of at least 10,000 were required to implement curbside recycling programs by September 26, 1990. Municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 and more than 300 persons per square mile were required to implement curbside programs by September 26, 1991. Mandated municipalities must collect at last three of the following materials: clear glass, colored glass, plastics, aluminum, steel and bimetallic cans, high grade office paper, corrugated paper and newsprint. Commercial, municipal and institutional establishments within a mandated municipality are required to recycle aluminum, high-grade office paper and corrugated paper in addition to other materials chosen by the municipality.

To fully realize the intent of Act 101, municipalities should adopt ordinance provisions for recycling, as either a stand-alone ordinance or as a component of a solid waste chapter of the municipality's code of ordinances. The ordinance language should address the following: applicability of recycling program efforts, materials that can and cannot be recycled, the designation, authorization and reporting requirements for authorized haulers, collection schedules, public information programs, and compliance and enforcement provisions. The ordinance should also include separate provisions for residential and commercial, municipal, and institutional requirements.

Municipalities should be aware that grant funds are available for the development of municipal recycling programs.


A number of Chester County municipalities have adopted recycling provisions in their codes of ordinances, and examples include:

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