The majority of the waste that entered trash compactors was packaging; this is exactly the type of waste that compactors are able to compact most effectively, and were designed to handle. The trash compactor arrived just as the point where Americans were realizing just how much waste post-war disposable packaging cost them.
In 1966, packaging cost the American public $25 billion–3.4 percent of the gross national product–not to mention the cost of collection and disposal. In that year, packaging material amounted to 52 million tons of waste. (Melosi, Garbage in the Cities. Pg. 177.)
According to the EPA, packaging jumped from 0.73 lbs per person per day in 1960 to 1.05 lbs per person per day in 1970. By 1989 packaging constituted over one-third of total municipal solid waste across the nation; it remains at that level today, despite exponentially increased recycling rates. Advertisements for compactors clearly show that the trash entering them is almost exclusively cartons, boxes, bags, bottles, and plastics.
Ironically, the compactor reproduced the packaging that it helped dispose of. The greatest appeal of the compactor in cleanliness and convenience was that it contained messy, dirty, chaotic refuse in a neat paper and plastic package. In this time of disposability and consumption, the packaging aesthetic permeated kitchen design; just as the continuous kitchen contained a variety of appliances, tools, and objects behind a smooth, hard, sterile exterior, so too did the compactor enclose trash, replicating the sterile food package.