Feb 22 2010

Recycling – an American tradition… until now.

Published by at 12:21 am under Reflection Blog,Uncategorized

In Susan Strasser’s Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, Strasser meticulously combs through American history to trace the history of American perspectives on recycling.  The first half of the book focuses on pre mass production and industrialized America, in which most of the focus of recycling focused on reusing textiles. In a time when women sewed clothes for the family, cloth was an essential and expensive commodity.   Strasser outlines the ways in which women were encouraged to patch holes in clothes, to wear them to rags, and to hopefully refit them for younger, smaller children.  A major advocate for this was Catharine Beecher, who was “the Martha Stewart of the Antebellum Period.”   She gave instructions for women on how to be thriftier with their clothes, the first of its kind.  Strasser then takes the reader to more modern times, giving us more insight into how our modern lives affect our surroundings.

In class we talked mostly about the last part of the book, spending a large amount of time discussing trash and where it goes.  A term that came up in class that I am interested in is the “Not in My Backyard” phenomenon.  We can’t begin to imagine having a world where trash collectors don’t take our garbage away, but where does it go?  Dumps and landfills occupy the parts of town that are low income, usually neighborhoods of color, where the residents don’t have a loud and influential enough voice to effective oppose such monstrosities.  The trash has to go somewhere, and rich white people aren’t going to allow it go across the street from where their kids go to school.  I remember watching a special on television about trash a few years ago, and I remember learning about how some states actually make money by allowing other states to dump their trash across state lines.  This is true for New York City, whose trash goes to nearby New Jersey.  The special showed the grueling and oftentimes impossible tasks that NYC trash collectors undertake getting trash out of the city and into NJ.  But, after reading Strasser, I’m left with the lingering idea that maybe we don’t need so much stuff.

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