From Ancient Greece to the present day, human civilizations have always struggled with the question of what to do with their waste. While waste disposal has changed much throughout human history, its purpose (namely, to keep cities and settlements clean) remains the same. Here’s a quick look at the history of waste disposal.
Humans lived a nomadic life through most of human history. Once organic materials had outlived their use, they simply tossed them out to be reclaimed through natural processes. It wasn’t until the advent of agriculture and the establishment of cities that waste disposal became an issue. The first known landfill was built in Knossos, Crete in 3000 B.C. Today, these ancient landfills are a primary resource for archaeologists seeking to learn more about ancient civilizations.
Disease and Sanitation
Plagues ravaged Europe throughout the Middle Ages, with the Black Plague killing over 25 percent of Europe’s population in the mid-14th Century. Around this time, people began drawing connections between poor waste disposal practices and the spread of disease. In 1388, the English Parliament banned the dumping of waste in ditches and waterways and commissioned the first garbage men, known then as “rakers.”
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th Centuries prompted a drastic change in waste disposal. Suddenly, humans were exploiting a range of natural resources, and at accelerating rates. A number of features of modern-day waste disposal were invented around this time, including garbage incinerators and large-scale municipal landfills.
The passage of the Clean Air Act and other environmental regulations led to modern day waste disposal. Private waste hauling services sprung up in cities throughout the United States, with the ubiquitous garbage truck becoming a common feature by the 1960’s. While waste is no less of a problem today, recycling and organized waste management systems have made it more environmentally friendly.
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