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[GreenYes] Re: First Curbside Program

I'msurprised no one has mentioned the "source separation" program introduced in 1894 by New York City Streets Commissioner George E. Waring. Read about Waring's program in Martin Melosi, Garbage in the Cities: Refuse, Reform and the Environment, Texas A&M Press, Chapter 2.

Melosi wrote:

"His most ambitious project was to devise a program for efficient collection of household and commercial wastes. "Source separation," which had been advocated for years but never attempted on a large scale, was attractive to him as an answer to New York's collection problem. The rationale for the system was that mixed refuse limited the options for disposal while separation of wastes at the source allowed the city to recover a portion of its costs of collection through the resale of some items and the reprocessing of others.... His plan for "primary separation" required each householder and business establishment to keep garbage (organic waste), rubbish, and ashes in separate containers until the department collected them. In 1896, Mayor Strong assigned forty policemen to the Street-Cleaning Department to explain the separation plan to every householder and businessman and ensure compliance with the new ordinance." (pp 69-70)

We flatter ourselves when we think our generation invented curbside recycling. That hubris can be forgiven (we are an overweeningly self-confident generation!). Less forgivable is not learning from history. Melosi noted that "Because of their complexities, [emphasis added] the utilization and disposal of refuse proved to be Waring's most difficult problems."

Waring learned from practical experience that curbside collection doesn't work efficiently for a "complex" mix of materials -- and consider that products and packaging comprised only 8% of waste then, compared to 75% now. So what did we do in the 1980s? Reinvent a program that didn't work. Today's municipal waste presents vastly greater "complexities" than the one that proved too difficult for Waring's source separation to handle.

Even Melosi, writing in 1981, included no discussion of the bottle bills that predated the new generation of curbside recycling by a decade. He didn't mention them because, of course, they are not part of the "municipal" waste system. The bottle bills required that beverage container packaging be managed through a reverse-distribution service provided by the beverage industry (sadly, pinning legal responsibility in many cases on the retailer rather than the brand-owner who designs the packaging) so they never become part of the municipal waste stream. Bottle bills, as we all know, get returns (of targeted containers) that are two to three times higher than curbside recycling. Coincidentally, it was the beverage industry that introduced voluntary bottle-return programs at just about the same time that Waring was training householders to "source separate" their trash.


At 09:05 AM 11/16/2005, Brewer, Gretchen, NMENV wrote:

There were 2 EPA pilots--Somerville, MA, and Marblehead, MA, done
simultaneously or in close succession. I thought the dates were 1972 or
1973, but I'm not sure about that. EPA published studies on both, but
don't know if those pubs are still in EPA archives. I cc'd this to Mike
Giurana at EPA, who is a wealth of information. Possibly he can track

Gretchen Brewer
NM Environment Dept

-----Original Message-----
From: GreenYes@no.address [mailto:GreenYes@no.address] On
Behalf Of Dan De Grassi
Sent: Wednesday, November 16, 2005 9:33 AM
To: Susan Kinsella; GreenYes List Serv
Subject: [GreenYes] Re: First Curbside Program

I thought it was Sommerville, Mass., under an EPA grant around 1970-1.
Berekely started a year or so later.

-----Original Message-----
From: GreenYes@no.address [mailto:GreenYes@no.address] On
Behalf Of Susan Kinsella
Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2005 11:37 PM
To: GreenYes List Serv
Subject: [GreenYes] First Curbside Program

Can anybody tell me which city started the first curbside recycling
program in the U.S. and Canada? I've heard of several contenders for the
honor. Probably there were several that started around the same time.
But I wonder whether it's possible to point to one as the first.


Susan Kinsella
Executive Director
San Francisco, CA
Phone - 415/721-4230
E-mail Fax - 509/756-6987
E-mail - susan@no.address
Websites -,

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