< Back to front page Text size +

The Anthropology of Trash

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

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

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.")


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.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

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.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

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.


Browse this blog

by category