In 1657, New Amsterdam which is now New York City passed a law preventing people from throwing waste in the streets. In 1690, America’s first paper mill, Rittenhouse Mill, made paper from recycled cotton and linen in addition to used paper.
American Industrial Revolution
Europe and America experienced the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Machinery was developed due to the availability of raw materials, increased trade and growing populations. Increase production and growing populations increase the amounts of waste. Waste became a growing concern for government officials as well as the public. To prevent problems associated with unmanaged waste in urban environments, the “Age of Sanitation” was started. Many of the communities started organized waste collection and disposal systems. This period also saw some of the earliest organized environmental efforts.
In 1710, Virginia colonists buried their trash filling holes with building debris, broken glass, ceramic objects, oyster shells and animal bones. In 1739, Benjamin Franklin led an environmental effort citing “public rights,” where he petitioned the Pennsylvania assembly to stop commercial waste dumping and remove tanneries from Philadelphia’s commercial district. In 1757, the first American municipal street cleaning operation was started by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Creating systematic waste management didn’t stop people from scavenging the ways for recyclable material, they eventually had to go to the local dumps to sift through the trash. Many people survived by selling what they could find in trash, including dog’s waste which was used by tanners to purify leather.
People would scavenge the sewers looking for valuables: they were known as toshers. Others would scavenge the river banks: they were known as mud-larks. Dustmen would collect the ash from coal fires and take it to dust yards: in London over 3 ½ million tons of coal were burned in one year. In the dust yards, men, women and children would sift the dust so that it could then be used as a soil conditioner and for making bricks.
In the 1800s, England’s household waste was collected daily in movable ash bins. The waste was then sorted by women or girls for salvageable materials. Glass, metal in any reusable material was returned to merchants. In 1834, a law was passed in Charleston, West Virginia which prohibited hunters from killing vultures, because they ate garbage. In 1842, the age of sanitation was started due to a report that linked disease to filthy environmental conditions in England. In 1848, The Public Health Act of 1848 started the process of regulating waste in Britain.
In 1885, the first garbage incinerator was built on Governors Island, New York. Almost 200 garbage incinerators were built throughout the US in the next two decades. In 1895, the first comprehensive system of public-sector waste management was started. In 1899, the federal Rivers and harbors act was passed prohibiting dumping in any navigable rivers.
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