Tracing refuse collection back to civilization’s earliest origins, a local representative for Republic Services gave the Los Alamitos Chamber of Commerce a quick history lesson on garbage this past week.
In her introduction of Manual Gouveia, Chamber Chairwoman Nesi Stewart said “Manny is a giver,” noting that Gouveia and the Republic Services team is always on the front line of many public service efforts throughout the community.
Before joining Republic 10 years ago, Gouveia worked for several elected officials, said Stewart, noting he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.
“We’re going to hop on a trash time machine,” said Manuel Gouveia, Municipal Services Representative told attending members.
Before jumping back in time, Gouveia noted that Republic Services has served the city of Los Alamitos for the past four decades.
Last year alone, he said, the residents of Los Alamitos generated nearly 15,000 tons of overall garbage, including 76 tons of food waste and nearly 1,000 tons of materials that can be recycled. The company serves 1900 residential customers and 840 commercial customers.
Gouveia said with residents hunkered down indoors for the pandemic, residential collection has skyrocketed and throughout the pandemic, Republic has promoted and honored the frontline workers such as the garbage truck drivers and others who take everyday risks to keep the city clean.
He briefly explained the various containers spread across the city that offers residents various collections services, such as solid waste, green waste, bulky organics, food waste, etc.
“How did we get here,” he asked rhetorically, telling the Chamber that “properly managed garbage collection was there in the beginning and it will be here till the end.” He said consumerism and population have only continued to grow, so “each and every day public health concerns, specifically those stemming from pandemics and the mass spread of diseases have molded the development of trash management that we experience here today.”
While trash collection has turned into a technology filled operation, Gouveia’s stroll through the trash collection time machine took the Chamber members back to 3,000 B.C. and the creation of the first ever garbage landfill in 2,000 B.C.
Even the earliest civilizations came to the realization that proper trash collection and disposal was not only important to cleanliness but also necessary to control the spread of disease that can easily fester in unsanitary conditions.
In 288 A.D., as the Roman Empire continued to grow, citizens could no longer safely exist by simply throwing their garbage “out of their windows,” so Roman emperors created “the first sanitation force.”
Gouveia said it consisted of two-man patrols that walked through the streets “to pick up and toss the garbage into a wagon and transported it to a remote site.”
Mankind learned a hard lesson regarding the lack of sanitary refuse collection in the fourteenth century, said Gouveia, as garbage filled streets, attracted rats and other pests that spread disease.
“The Black Plague, the most dangerous disease ever to hit mankind, broke out in 1350 and killed 25 million people in just five years,” he said.
In America, after its founding, Gouveia said the first law was passed in 1657 in New Amsterdam, modern day Manhattan, ushering in the age of sanitation “to avoid the potential problem associated with unmanaged wastes in urban areas.”
The law prohibited residents from “casting their wastes into the streets” and Gouveia said many communities began organized waste collection projects “in a sweeping effort aimed at maintaining public health.”
As the country evolved, the first consolidated legislation was passed in 1864 after public health officials “became aware” of the potential connection between the spread of yellow fever in Memphis, he said.
In 1895, the New York street cleaning commissioner organized “the first comprehensive U.S. system public sector garbage management service, employing 2000 white clad employees known as “white wings” to clear the streets of garbage.
As society accelerated, said Gouveia, so did the technology and sophistication of the laws governing the growing waste industry.
Cities switched from horse drawn waste collection to motorized collection in 1918 and used ocean dumping and wastelands to create landfills until in 1934 the U.S. Supreme Court banned dumping of residential waste into the ocean, he noted.
Gouveia said shortages during World War I prompted the U.S. federal government to launch what has today become the modern recycling and waste reclamation movements.
New technologies, such as a side-loading truck, were introduced in 1945 “and this process actually still exists today,” he said. Congress passed the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976, which he said created “a significant role” for the federal government in waste management.
There have been victories in the industry, he noted. Landfills in the U.S. are down from 20,000 in 1971 to 2,800 today.
Gouveia also gave members a detailed breakdown on how California has passed waste management regulations far more stringent that those of the federal government and how companies like Republic have complied.
Gouveia also explained how structural trends caused by international players like China affected the industry and he also explained the complex developments caused by changing regulations such as California’s new organic waste collection mandate, which he said will have trouble meeting its 2025 targets (especially with onset of the pandemic).
He said the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day and approximately 16,000 pounds per year and these numbers grow each year.
“Public health concerns among growing populations and environmental impacts have sparked the need for proper solid waste management,” throughout history, said Gouveia, adding “the same concerns will continue to drive regulation and innovation across the waste industry.”