Prior to 1975, there were thousands of public and private dumps located throughout Iowa that allowed open burning and burial of waste, including hazardous waste. Federal regulations promulgated in the 1970s and adopted by the state, required these sites to be replaced with permitted sanitary landfills as a means of protecting human health, safety and welfare and the environment.
The Groundwater Protection Act passed by the Iowa Legislature in 1987 addressed numerous groundwater contamination threats. To promote the goals of protecting the health, safety and welfare of Iowans and the protection of the environment, a hierarchy of preferred waste management actions was established as part of the solid waste management policy of the state. In response to changing solid waste streams and new technologies, the waste management hierarchy (455B.301A) was amended to:
- Volume reduction at the source
- Recycling and reuse
- Waste conversion technologies
- Combustion with energy recovery
- Other approved techniques of solid waste management including but not limited to combustion for waste disposal and disposal in sanitary landfills
Following passage of the Groundwater Protection Act, the 1989 Waste Reduction and Recycling Act was signed into law establishing landfill reduction goals of 25% and 50% (455D.3), among other solid waste management related requirements.
Both the Groundwater Protection Act and the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act focus on managing solid waste at the point of disposal following the waste management hierarchy. Measuring landfill reduction goals as well as measuring the success of waste management programs is based on the weight of solid waste being landfilled. While this is an easy to obtain measure, as every landfill employs scales to weigh incoming waste, weight does not provide an accurate measure and the waste management hierarchy does not always align with the greatest protection of human health or the environment.
Changing waste streams and changing technologies have created the need and opportunity to rethink solid waste management policy and priorities. Unlike the current system of measuring the weight of materials at the point of disposal, a new method to measure impacts to human health and the environment, sustainable materials management considers these impacts at each stage of a product's life, beginning with raw material extraction through manufacturing, distribution, use and end of life management.
The US Environmental Protection Agency endorses sustainable materials management as a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycles. Several states have implemented or are in the process of implementing sustainable materials management as their solid waste management policy. Iowa DNR is currently investigating the applicability of sustainable materials management for updating state law, policy and programs.