It started because of injuries.

About fifty years ago, a group of municipal solid waste management folks — that is, the men and women in charge of publicly- organized garbage collection and street cleaning — were having a lunch meeting when one of them mentioned that sanitation workers under his supervision were getting hurt when they rode on the outside of the garbage trucks. A few others at the table said their workers had the same problem. The group decided to join forces to find a solution. They reached out to truck manufacturers and persuaded them to add handrails and steps with treads to the back of the collection trucks. They also organized training sessions for workers, teaching them how and when to use the steps and — just as importantly — when not to use them. 

As a direct result of these efforts, injuries rates dropped dramatically. When the same  sanitation managers met for lunch again a few months later, they wondered what else they might do as a united force, and in 1966 they formed the Governmental Refuse Collection and Disposal Association. From its start in Southern California, it grew to a nation-wide coalition of public and private solid waste managers. In the early 1990s, the name was changed to the Solid Waste Association of North America, or SWANA.

Today SWANA’s 8,000+ members use the organization for outreach, training, technical certification, lobbying, and a host of other waste-related concerns. Its official journal, MSW Management, recounts its history in more detail here.

Anyone concerned with garbage, recycling, street cleaning, litter, and all the other relevant forms of pollution that are variations on discard behavior will find SWANA a detailed source of information, history, and insight. You may or may not agree with the organization’s politics, but its perspective is particular and important.