In response to mounting solid waste problems, EPA published The Solid Waste Dilemma: An Agenda for Action in 1989, which presents goals and recommendations for action by the EPA, state and local governments, industry, and consumers to address the solid waste problems facing the United States. The EPA recommends an integrated, hierarchical approach to waste management using four components: source reduction, recycling, combustion, and landfills. This comprehensive approach addresses critical junctures in the manufacture, use, and disposal of products and materials to minimize wastefulness and maximize value. This strategy favors source reduction to decrease the volume and toxicity of waste and to increase the useful life of products. After source reduction, recycling, including composting, is the preferred waste management approach to divert waste from combustors and landfills. Combustion is used to reduce the volume of waste being disposed as well as to recover energy, whereas landfills are used for the final disposal of nonrecyclable and noncombustible material.
The goal of the integrated management hierarchy is to use a combination of all these methods to handle the MSW stream safely and effectively with the least adverse impact on human health and the environment. The EPA encourages communities to develop community-specific assessments of potential source reduction, recycling, combustion, and landfill programs and to customize programs according to local needs, keeping in mind the strategies preferred in the national hierarchical structure. Because each community's waste profile (i.e., the amounts and types of waste generated), infrastructure, social and economic structure, and policies differ, decision makers at the local level are the most qualified to assess community needs and develop an appropriate solid waste management strategy.
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