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solid waste

solid waste, discarded materials other than fluids. In the United States in 1996, nearly 210 million tons—about 4.3 lb. (2 kg) per person daily (up from 2.7 lb./1.2 kg in 1960)—were collected and disposed of by municipalities. In that year, municipal garbage included 12.4 million tons of glass and about 80 million tons of paper and paperboard (by far the largest constituent); in addition enormous tonnages of food residues, yard trimmings, textiles, plastics, and sludge formed in sewage treatment were produced. Although the amount of the increase has been slowed somewhat by recycling and composting programs and improvements in packaging, the amount of solid waste continues to increase annually. Moreover, the most common disposal methods pollute land, water, or air to some degree (see pollution). Management of solid waste therefore presents an increasingly acute problem.

See also environmentalism; radioactive waste.


Approximately 62% of municipal waste is placed in landfills. If the waste is dumped untreated, it can promote the proliferation of rats, flies, and other vermin, encourage growth of disease-carrying organisms, contaminate surface and underground water, scar the land, and preempt open space. An alternative method of solid waste disposal is the sanitary landfill, first employed in Fresno, Calif., in 1937: waste is spread in thin layers, each tamped compactly and covered by a layer of earth. While more expensive than open dumping, the sanitary landfill eliminates health hazards and permits reclamation of the site for construction, recreation, or other purposes. The chief drawbacks are that feasible locations are relatively rare and costly and that sites must be insulated from water resources to avoid polluting them (see water pollution). Both open dump and sanitary landfill disposal depend on the natural degradability of wastes for an ultimate return to normal earth conditions. Decay, however, takes time; buried paper, for example, can persist as long as 60 years. Many plastics and synthetic textiles do not degrade at all.


To reduce the bulk of solid waste burning of paper, plastic, and other components is often resorted to, either in open dumps or incinerators. Fly ash, noxious gases, and chemical contaminants can thus be released into the air (see air pollution). However, new techniques for “scrubbing” pollutants from incinerator stacks are being developed. Incineration of typical garbage reduces its weight and volume by as much as 80%. Approximately 15.9% of municipal solid waste is combusted.


Recycling of solid wastes is an option that many municipalities have explored in recent years. It not only facilitates disposal but conserves energy, cuts pollution, and preserves natural resources. To make cans from recovered aluminum, for example, requires 10% of the energy needed to make them from virgin ore. At the same time ore is saved, and the pollution resulting from mining and processing are avoided. Making steel bars from scrap requires 74% less energy and 50% less water, while reducing air-polluting emissions by 85% and mining wastes by 95%.

Similarly, sludge from treated sewage can be used for fertilizer, but it has been less costly to dump it at sea or on open land (see sewerage). Dumped sludge has killed marine life and threatened beaches along the Eastern seaboard; elsewhere in the United States it is a growing nuisance. Between 1975 and 1985 the amount of sludge dumped in U.S. coastal waters increased by 60%; the effects of dumping and illegal dumping are still felt despite the fact that it has been illegal since the beginning of 1992. Recycling and composting take care of approximately 2.7% of municipal solid waste.

New Techniques

The federal government now provides assistance to localities in developing new means of recovering materials and energy from solid waste, and encourages private industry to seek similar goals. One technique being tried involves intensified combustion of wastes to produce heat for generating power. A second promising approach is pyrolysis, the thermal decomposition of wastes in controlled amounts of oxygen to produce valuable petrochemicals; the residue is an inert char of little bulk. Another method of reducing solid wastes is to replace polystyrene packaging with less bulky wrapping made largely of paper. Wider application of such processes is being advocated not only to diminish pollution of the environment by solid waste, but also to conserve natural resources.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(in industry), any material that is left over from the production process. Wastes include materials with a wide range of compositions and physicochemical properties. Examples are such by-products as ore fines, cuttings, and turnings; inert substances that are separated from minerals and fuels during enrichment; and ashes and slags that are formed during the combustion of fuels. The amount of waste depends on the production technology used, the quality of the starting materials, the dimensions of the material, and the way in which the production processes are coordinated.

Progress in engineering has sharply reduced quantities of waste; furthermore, a significant portion of industrial waste is

Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents used by capitalist countries
 StructurePhysiological classificationChemical behavior
1The structure of a representative compound is shown
Tabun ................Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedNerve agentUnstable
Sarin..............Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedNerve agentUnstable
Soman...............Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedNerve agentStable
Phosphorylthiocholines1 ....Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedNerve agentStable
Hydrogen cyanide...........HCNGeneral poisonUnstable
Cyanogen chloride............ClCNGenera l poisonUnstable
Phosgene..............OCCl2Choking agentUnstable
Mustard gas...............S(CH2CH2Cl)2Choking agent, vesicantStable
Trichlorotriethylamine .........N(CH2CH2Cl)3Choking agent, vesicantStable
Lewisite.........Cl2AsCH=CHClChoking agent, vesicantStable
Chloroacetophenone.......Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedLacrimator, irritantFuming, unstable
o-Chlorobenzalmalononitrile.Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedLacrimator, sternutator, irritantFuming, unstable
Chloropicrin.............Cl3CNO2Choking agent, lacrimator, irritantUnstable
Adamsite...............Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedSternutator, irritantFuming, unstable
Lysergic acid diethylamide ...Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedPsychotomimeticUnstable
Quinuclidine ester of diphenyl-oxyacetic acid.................Table 1. Toxic chemical warfare agents usedPscychotomimeticUnstable

used as a raw material for producing by-products. A decrease in the quantities of waste and the reuse of waste significantly reduces the consumption of raw materials and supplies. Production costs are lowered, while production efficiency is raised. In the USSR and elsewhere new technologies are being devised, while the existing production processes are being improved in order to maximize the reduction in the quantities of waste and, where possible, to completely eliminate waste.

Closed-loop recycling is one new development. The quantities of waste in the form of waste water and industrial air pollution have been sharply reduced, particularly in the chemical, metallurgical, and petroleum-refining and processing industries as well as in the coal, pulp, and paper industries. Another method of waste reduction is the creation of industrial complexes in which one plant utilizes the waste products of another plant as raw materials. Such measures are means of conserving natural resources as well as of improving the quality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and soil. In the USSR the reduction or utilization of waste are part of the plan for the supply of raw materials and for the development of industrial production. Incentives in the form of bonuses for workers serve to encourage the practice of collecting, storing, and shipping wastes in many branches of industry.




by-products created in the processing of textile fibers. In Soviet industry, waste is classified as visible or invisible. Visible waste includes selvage waste—processed fiber that has emerged as waste from the spinning of semifinished articles and is returned for reprocessing; reworkable waste—soiled fiber, noils, and waste from opening machines that can be used in spinning after it is loosened and cleaned; wadded material, used to make wadding; and unusable waste. Invisible waste results from the removal of moisture from the raw material and the dispersion of fiber particles. Waste is undesirable because it reduces production output and increases the prime cost of production.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Rubbish from a building.
Dirty water from mining, industrial, and domestic use.
The amount of excavated material exceeding fill.
(mining engineering)
The barren rock in a mine.
The refuse from ore dressing and smelting plants.
The fine coal made in mining and preparing coal for market.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. The discharge from any fixture, appliance, area, or appurtenance which contains no fecal matter.
3. Waste material such as garbage, refuse, rubbish, and trash.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. a land or region that is devastated or ruined
2. a land or region that is wild or uncultivated
3. Physiol
a. the useless products of metabolism
b. indigestible food residue
4. disintegrated rock material resulting from erosion
5. Law reduction in the value of an estate caused by act or neglect, esp by a life-tenant
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005