Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Pamela Riney-kehrberg


From the mid-1960s until the end of the 1970s, a type of municipal solid waste management known as resource recovery was expected to solve both America's trash accumulation problems and projected resource shortages. A wide array of citizens and institutions all tried to maximize the utilization of waste through a mix of recycling and waste-to-energy processes. Each of the groups involved saw the value of resource recovery from their own perspective: as a way to save materials, make money, get rid of trash, produce energy, or conserve (or preserve) land. Despite their different motivations, these groups were willing to cooperate towards an ultimate goal of recovering what would otherwise be lost in landfills or old-fashioned incinerators, which did not produce anything but ash.

This dissertation traces the history of this push for maximum solid waste utilization. Three case studies provide particular insight to the ideas, problems, and motives involved in resource recovery: The first federally funded resource recovery plant in St. Louis, Missouri; Monsanto's expensive technological failure in Baltimore, Maryland; and the Arnold O. Chantland Resource Recovery Plant in Ames, Iowa, which is the only remaining plant in the nation. Through these studies and an examination of the ideas of environmentalists such as Barry Commoner and Rachel Carson, this work traces the end of the country's technological optimism, the environmental struggles of urban areas, the roots of some divisions in American attitudes toward the environment, and the rise of the recycling movement.


Copyright Owner

Angela Shannon Gumm



Date Available


File Format


File Size

250 pages

Included in

History Commons