Utne Blogs > Environment

New York’s Anthropologist of Garbage

by Brad Zellar


Tags: New York Department of Sanitation, Robin Nagle, garbage, trash, Environment, The Believer, Brad Zellar,

Believer Cover September 2010As pull quotes go, this one from The Believer’s interview with anthropologist Robin Nagle is pretty golden:  “Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything.” I’d have been even more delighted if Nagle had dispatched with that qualifying “future,” but then I’m a curmudgeon, not a scholar of rubbish in the strictest sense.

Nagle’s obviously got a rich stomping ground for her studies—if you’ve ever wandered Manhattan’s streets in the wee hours you’re familiar with that city’s Sisyphean relationship with garbage disposal—and she also more than established her bona fides by working a sanitation route in the Bronx. In this wide-ranging conversation with Alex Carp, Nagle discusses, the archaeology of household waste, the lives of sanitation workers, dirt, garbage flow, our cognitive issues with trash, the topography of landfills, and her own Sisyphean attempts to create a Museum of Sanitation in New York.

Nagle’s rambles are smart, funny, and full of lots of serious food for thought; for some reason this interview did more for my own garbage consciousness than a hundred earnest jackhammer pieces on recycling, righteous greenery, and carbon footprints.

I’m also seriously excited about the commercial possibilities for a line of stylish “Future Trash” t-shirts (I’m calling dibs right now).

Source: The Believer 

 

peter
9/23/2010 5:44:48 PM

If you like this article, there is an excellent book written in 1978 by a sociologist, Stewart Perry, about riding along with garbage workers and the history of waste and scavengers in San Francisco, called "San Francisco Scavengers." He updated it in 1998 and gave it a new title, "Collecting Garbage."