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The Anthropology of Trash

Posted by Josh Rothman  November 4, 2010 04:38 PM

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Onearth Magazine offers up a short but fascinating interview with Robin Nagle, the Anthropologist-in-Residence at New York City's Department of Sanitation (she's also a professor at NYU). Nagle spends her days surrounded by garbage, but her real interest is the people who pick it up: Nagel herself has worked at the sanitation department, and even earned a commercial driver's license so that she could drive a garbage truck and learn garbage-collecting from the inside. (Unfortunately, she says, "I realized I couldn’t hold that title and my N.Y.U. job at the same time.")

trash-is-her-treasure_1.jpg

The most surprising fact to come out in the interview: even though we throw away more than we used to,

our garbage is lighter now, mostly because we’ve replaced metal, glass, and wooden items with plastic.

By weight, we now throw out only half as much as we did in 1940.

You can read more about Professor Nagle at The Believer and The New Yorker, and you can watch a great talk she gave at the 2009 Gel Conference right here - it has tons of wonderful photos:

Robin Nagle at Gel 2009 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Photo from Scientific American; story via Kottke.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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