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As human beings evolved from nomadic hunter-gatherers into more sedentary settings in cities, municipal solid waste disposal evolved as well. As early as 2500 B.C., trash bins and rubbish chutes were used in the Indus Valley (DeLong, 1993). However, it was not until the 19th Century that municipal waste was institutionalized in the daily operations of a city. This was mainly due to the nature of modern waste which, unlike the reusable pottery or wood containers used by our ancestors, included plastic, metal and glass. Annual waste generated per capita early in the 19th century was 100- 200 pounds as compared to 4,708.5 pounds that we generate in the Chicago metro region today.

Municipal solid waste is the term used to describe the waste discarded by America's households, stores, offices, factories, restaurants, schools & other institutions. In Illinois, "discarded" generally means disposed of in agency-permitted landfills–facilities that are allowed to operate under permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).

Recently, the subject of solid waste disposal received considerable attention due to its impact on the environment and land-use decisions. In general, solid waste is disposed of through the following methods ordered from most to least desirable:

  1. Source Reduction: this refers to reducing waste through various means such as less packaging, use of reusable utensils (instead of disposable ones), etc.
  2. Recycling and Composting: these processes create usable products out of discarded material.
  3. Combustion with Energy Recovery: this is a preferred method for materials that have energy value that can be recovered through combustion e.g. paper and plastic.
  4. Combustion for Volume Reduction: this applies to materials that do not generate energy on combustion and also for material in which high heat will destroy toxic components.
  5. Landfilling: this method buries waste in the ground under constraints imposed by USEPA and IEPA.

IEPA designated our area as the Chicago Metro Region in its reporting procedures. This includes the counties of Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will. Therefore, while CMAP covers seven counties of the above nine, we will use the IEPA term and designation, which includes Grundy and Kankakee, for the purposes of this report.

In the following section (after a review of solid waste disposal recommendations from previous plans) we will explore the various means of disposal in the Chicago metro region. We will describe how each method is employed and its capacity for handling the region's waste and its effectiveness.

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