Feb 22 2010

History of Trash

Published by at 10:46 pm under Reflection Blog

We today rarely think about our trash and we don’t usually ponder how sanitation departments and dumps so perfectly came in to our existents to kindly remove the trash right from under or noses.  In the book Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, Susan Strasser reflects on the changing values toward trash, environmental racism that occurs, and she looks at how mass consumption is the key culprit in America’s trash problems that keep building and building.

Strasser begins our journey through trash right in colonial times when “trash” did not really exist. People reused everything and if it was of now using to them it either became animal food or fertilizer.  Another way colonist was able to keep trash mounds out of their lives by bartering products. They would exchange unneeded items with neighbors for things more practical to them. Women, as throughout the history of trash, played an important role. Women were in charge of mending clothing and everything else, they learned ways to turn leftovers in to meals, and they learned to create “new” from old.  “’Many rugs and mats were manufactured from rags and waste material, ‘ one household writer admitted about an unusual design for a rag rug, ‘ but that doesn’t matter, for it can be made of what is good for nothing else’”(59).  The view of the rug maker soon faded when people started to move to cities and factories began emerging.

Once large populations of people moved toward cities and lived in much closer people began to acknowledge that there was not room for the things they didn’t need. Mindset was also beginning to change as class distinctions became more present in American society.  “Mending and reuse were still common practices and appropriate topics for housekeeping manuals, but their class association had shifted”(112).  If the neighbors noticed you wearing the same dress as last year, whether it fit or not, was unbearably unacceptable and as a result of this new concern various methods of disposal emerged. “Options emerged for disposing of unwanted stuff, and middle-class people learned to toss things in the trash, attracted by the convenience and repelled by the association of reuse and recycling”(113). This also played in to the idea of not wanting to associate with the poor. Once dumps began being created class had everything to do with how close the dump was (the further away the better).  Thus, environmental racism came in to play and mostly poor and often time’s minority neighborhoods became the site of the city dump.

I really enjoyed this book because it wasn’t just about trash; it showed how connected the thing we want most disconnection from really is.  Trash is involved in all the follies of the American nation; trash can be linked to class, racism and mass consumption.  We related the environmental racism to our own area and mentioned Charles City County and many more that are clearly affected by this racism.  I also enjoyed the quote from one of my classmates on their view of why marketers appeal to the young, “ Advertisers are able to affect the young people who are not dying so soon.” We discussed with help of the internet people are looking on sires like freecycle.com and craigslist.com and looking for used instead going out as consuming new. I also liked the video that showed Forgotten Harvest and I think that is awesome that they take the over 12 hundred pounds of  “bad” food and distribute them to people in need.  Though there are still issues wit trash Strasser has gotten people to recognize them and maybe key individuals will choose to make a small difference in the way social history of trash. continues

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