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Municipal solid waste

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Title: Municipal solid waste  
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Subject: Solid waste policy in the United States, Waste management law, Waste, Refuse-derived fuel, Waste-to-energy
Collection: Waste
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Municipal solid waste

Municipal solid waste (MSW), commonly known as trash or garbage in the U.S. and as refuse or rubbish in the UK, is a waste type consisting of everyday items that are discarded by the public. "Garbage" can also refer specifically to food waste, as in a garbage disposal; the two are sometimes collected separately.


  • Composition 1
  • Components of solid waste management 2
    • Collection 2.1
    • Waste handling and separation, storage and processing at the source 2.2
    • Separation and processing and transformation of solid wastes 2.3
    • Transfer and transport 2.4
    • Disposal 2.5
    • Energy generation 2.6
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


The composition of municipal solid waste varies greatly from municipality to municipality (country to country) and changes significantly with time. In municipalities (countries) which have a well developed waste recycling culture, the waste stream consists mainly of intractable wastes such as plastic film, and un-recyclable packaging materials. At the start of the 20th century, the majority of domestic waste (53%) in the UK consisted of coal ash from open fires[1] In developed municipalities (countries) without significant recycling activity it predominantly includes food wastes, market wastes, yard wastes, plastic containers and product packaging materials, and other miscellaneous solid wastes from residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial sources.[2] Most definitions of municipal solid waste do not include industrial wastes, agricultural wastes, medical waste, radioactive waste or sewage sludge.[3] Waste collection is performed by the municipality within a given area. The term residual waste relates to waste left from household sources containing materials that have not been separated out or sent for reprocessing.[4] Waste can be classified in several ways but the following list represents a typical classification:

Components of solid waste management

The municipal solid waste industry has four components: recycling, composting, landfilling, and waste-to-energy via incineration.[5] The primary steps are generation, collection, sorting and separation, transfer, and disposal. Activities in which materials are identified as no longer being of value and are either thrown out or gathered together for disposal.


The functional element of collection includes not only the gathering of solid waste and recyclable materials, but also the transport of these materials, after collection, to the location where the collection vehicle is emptied. This location may be a materials processing facility, a transfer station or a landfill disposal site.

Waste handling and separation, storage and processing at the source

Waste handling and separation involves activities associated with waste management until the waste is placed in storage containers for collection. Handling also encompasses the movement of loaded containers to the point of collection. Separating different types of waste components is an important step in the handling and storage of solid waste at the source.

Separation and processing and transformation of solid wastes

The types of means and facilities that are now used for the recovery of waste materials that have been separated at the source include curbside collection, drop off and buy back centers. The separation and processing of wastes that have been separated at the source and the separation of commingled wastes usually occur at a materials recovery facility, transfer stations, combustion facilities and disposal sites.

Transfer and transport

This element involves two main steps. First, the waste is transferred from a smaller collection vehicle to larger transport equipment. The waste is then transported, usually over long distances, to a processing or disposal site.


Mixed municipal waste, Hiriya, Tel Aviv

Today, the disposal of wastes by land filling or land spreading is the ultimate fate of all solid wastes, whether they are residential wastes collected and transported directly to a landfill site, residual materials from materials recovery facilities (MRFs), residue from the combustion of solid waste, compost, or other substances from various solid waste processing facilities. A modern sanitary landfill is not a dump; it is an engineered facility used for disposing of solid wastes on land without creating nuisances or hazards to public health or safety, such as the breeding of insects and the contamination of ground water.

Energy generation

Municipal solid waste can be used to generate energy. Several technologies have been developed that make the processing of MSW for energy generation cleaner and more economical than ever before, including landfill gas capture, combustion, pyrolysis, gasification, and plasma arc gasification.[6] While older waste incineration plants emitted high levels of pollutants, recent regulatory changes and new technologies have significantly reduced this concern. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations in 1995 and 2000 under the Clean Air Act have succeeded in reducing emissions of dioxins from waste-to-energy facilities by more than 99 percent below 1990 levels, while mercury emissions have been by over 90 percent.[7] The EPA noted these improvements in 2003, citing waste-to-energy as a power source “with less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity”.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Centenary history of waste and waste managers in London and south east England- Page 7
  2. ^ Non-hazardous Waste U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Municipal Solid Waste
  3. ^ Municipal Solid Waste U.S. Energy Information Administration
  4. ^ Mechanical Biological Treatment Welsh Assembly (2005) Mechanical Biological Treatment, Environment Countryside and Planning Website, Welsh Assembly
  5. ^ Nonhazardous waste U.S. Energy Information Administration
  6. ^ Environmental and Energy Study Institute Issue Brief
  7. ^ Combustion Emissions from Hazardous Waste Incinerators, Boilers and Industrial Furnaces, and Municipal Solid Waste Incinerators- Results from Five STAR Grants and Research Needs U.S. EPA
  8. ^ U.S. EPA Letter to Maria Zannes, President, Integrated Waste Services Association

Further reading

  • Vergara, S. E.; Tchobanoglous, G. (2012). "Municipal Solid Waste and the Environment: A Global Perspective". Annual Review of Environment and Resources 37: 277.  

External links

  • "Environmentally Sound Management of Solid Wastes and Sewage-Related Issues".  
  • "Municipal Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules 2000, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India". Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  • Municipal Solid Waste in the U.S. Factsheet by the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems
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