Can We Make Garbage Disappear?

Through the magic of recycling and modern alchemy, we will move swiftly toward a world without waste

Whoever said "waste not, want not" hasn't had much influence on 276 million Americans. In 1997 we gave a collective heave-ho to more than 430 billion lbs. of garbage. That means each man, woman and child tossed out an average of nearly 1,600 lbs. of banana peels, Cheerios boxes, gum wrappers, Coke cans, ratty sofas, TIME magazines, car batteries, disposable diapers, yard trimmings, junk mail, worn-out Nikes--plus whatever else goes into your trash cans. An equivalent weight of water could fill 68,000 Olympic-size pools.

And that's just the relatively benign municipal solid waste. Each year American industries belch, pump and dump...