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Taking Out the Garbage

IT used to be so simple: Just put your weekly garbage and trash in a strong container, set it by your driveway curb, and try not to get irritated when the smelly, noisy truck comes by at 5 a.m. to pick it up.

Many people in small communities took their own refuse to the landfill, incinerator, or compactor, and some still do.

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Nowadays we tend to call it "waste," a more polite and inclusive word. In a society that packages almost every product - usually in plastic - waste disposal facilities have to accommodate a lot more than garbage.

Recycling helps, but it has limitations. For example, not enough people bother to prepare refuse and put it in designated containers.

Recent developments indicate that the era of the community landfill is coming to an end. Tough new environmental rules are being imposed at the federal and state levels. Dumps that don't meet the new requirements will have to be shut down by 1993.

It is projected that 6,500 local landfills nationwide will be forced to close in the next four years, to be replaced by some 1,000 huge, regional facilities owned by a few firms.

Recyclers have talked about "turning garbage into gold." The landfill entrepreneurs have their own plans for doing that; waste disposal already is a $30-million-a-year business.

The upshot: You may not only be awakened by the garbage truck in the future; you may also lie awake thinking about what it is costing you.

One wag - a professional in the waste disposal business - has suggested gathering all the refuse, putting it huge space rockets, and aiming it for the sun, the perfect incinerator.

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More practical advice for the near term: Join and be active in a community recycling effort; cut down on the use of throwaway items and ask for reusable containers; cut down as much as possible on use of paper, plastic, foil, and other packaging materials.

More costly waste disposal facilities will no doubt be built. But resourceful communities may well be able to postpone that experience for some time - though probably not until the great incinerator in the sky becomes available.

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