Cultural Context

Why did the trash compactor take from the first patent in 1957 until 1969 to hit the market, when only three of those years were spent in development, according to Whirlpool?

"Introducing the Trash Masher by Whirlpool," Boston Sunday Globe, September 30, 1970.

“Introducing the Trash Masher by Whirlpool,” Boston Sunday Globe, September 30, 1970.

The answer lies in the growing waste crisis of the mid to late twentieth century; as the environmental movement gained momentum, people were simultaneously becoming aware of the limits of landfills. A main line of compactor marketing appealed to this sense of pending or imminent catastrophe; one promotion read:

“Do you have a trash collection problem in your area? In many communities, trash collection is reaching crisis proportions. […] One answer to the dilemma is the newest appliance on the market – a trash compactor unit,”

Thus we see that the direct catalyst for the trash compactor’s commercial development was growing anxiety over household waste. As Appliance Manufacturer noted near the time of the compactor’s commercial release “There is money to be made by producing appliances to solve the garbage problem.”

Indeed, another motivation for compactor development was the sense that a financial windfall awaited anyone who might solve it.  In the United States of the twentieth century, solid waste management was one of the most expensive public works projects. Fiscally, municipal trash management works on economies of density, not scale; doubling the weight collected per mile could cut costs in half. Given that by 1975 the handling of solid waste was estimated to cost over $5 billion per year, increasing the density of waste through compactors or other means was attractive, to say the least.

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