Chapter 23 -- Solid, Toxic, and Hazardous Waste
After studying this chapter, you should be able to:
  • identify the major components of the waste stream and describe how wastes have been--and are being--disposed of in North America and around the world.

  • explain how incinerators work, as well as the advantages and disadvantages they offer.

  • summarize the benefits, problems, and potential of recycling and reusing wastes.

  • analyze some alternatives for reducing the waste we generate.

  • understand what hazardous and toxic wastes are and how we dispose of them.

  • evaluate the options for hazardous waste management.

  • outline some ways we can destroy or permanently store hazardous wastes.


Solid Waste

The Waste Stream

  • The waste stream is a term that describes the steady flow of varied wastes that we all produce.

  • Many materials in the waste stream would be valuable resources if they were not mixed with other garbage.

  • A problem with refuse mixing is that hazardous materials in the waste stream get dispersed through thousands of tons of miscellaneous garbage.

Waste Disposal Methods

Open Dumps

Ocean Dumping


Exporting Waste

Incineration and Resource Recovery

Shrinking the Waste Stream



  • Composting is a process in which organic yard waste is broken down by bacteria into a nutrient rich soil amendment.

  • Compost piles are an easy, inexpensive, environmentally friendly way of disposing of organic wastes.

Energy from Waste



Producing Less Waste

Hazardous and Toxic Wastes

What Is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous Waste Disposal

Superfund Sites

Options for Hazardous Waste Management


Questions for Review

  1. What are solid wastes and hazardous wastes? What is the difference between them?
  2. How much solid and hazardous waste do we produce each year in the United States? How do we dispose of the waste?
  3. Why are landfill sites becoming limited around most major urban centers in the United States? What steps are being taken to solve this problem?
  4. Describe some concerns about waste incineration.
  5. List some benefits and drawbacks of recycling wastes. What are the major types of materials recycled from municipal waste and how are they used?
  6. What is composting, and how does it fit into solid waste disposal?
  7. Describe some ways that we can reduce the waste stream to avoid or reduce disposal problems.
  8. List ten toxic substances in your home and how you would dispose of them.
  9. What are brownfields and why do cities want to redevelop them?
  10. What societal problems are associated with waste disposal? Why do people object to waste handling in their neighborhoods?

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. A toxic waste disposal site has been proposed for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Many tribal members oppose this plan, but some favor it because of the jobs and income it will bring to an area with 70 percent unemployment. If local people choose immediate survival over long-term health, should we object or intervene?
  2. There is often a tension between getting your personal life in order and working for larger structural changes in society. Evaluate the trade-offs between spending time and energy sorting recyclables at home compared to working in the public arena on a bill to ban excess packaging.
  3. Should industry officials be held responsible for dumping chemicals that were legal when they did it but are now known to be extremely dangerous? At what point can we argue that they should have known about the hazards involved?
  4. Look at the discussion of recycling or incineration presented in this chapter. List the premises (implicit or explicit) that underlie the presentation as well as the conclusions (stated or not) that seem to be drawn from them. Do the conclusions necessarily follow from these premises?
  5. Suppose that your brother or sister has decided to buy a house next to a toxic waste dump because it costs $20,000 less than a comparable house elsewhere. What do you say to him or her?
  6. Is there an overall conceptual framework or point of view in this chapter? If you were presenting a discussion of solid or hazardous waste to your class, what would be your conceptual framework?
  7. Is there a fundamental difference between incinerating municipal, medical, or toxic industrial waste? Would you oppose an incinerator for one type of waste in your neighborhood but not others? Why, or why not?