Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage

From the publisher:
It is from the discards of former civilizations that archaeologists have reconstructed most of what we know about the past, and it is through their examination of today's garbage that William Rathje and Cullen Murphy inform us of our present. Rubbish! is their witty and erudite investigation into all aspects of the phenomenon of garbage. Rathje and Murphy show what the study of garbage tells us about a population’s demographics and buying habits. Along the way, they dispel the common myths about our “garbage crisis”—about fast-food packaging and disposable diapers, about biodegradable garbage and the acceleration of the average family’s garbage output. They also suggest methods for dealing with the garbage we do have.


Publishers Weekly, June 1, 1992

One of the central tenets of the University of Arizona's Garbage Project is that “what people have owned—and thrown away—can speak more eloquently, informatively, and truthfully about the lives they lead than they themselves ever may.” Project garbologists have alchemized more than 250,000 pounds of refuse—from landfills and from trash cans in selected neighborhoods—into a treasure trove for experts in marketing and consumer research, census studies and environmentalism. Garbologists have determined that people waste three times more beef when the meat is in short supply than when it is plentiful; that many women use birth-control pills incorrectly; and that lower-income families consistently buy small-size, brand-name products rather than cheaper generic ones. Erudite and witty cultural tour guides, Rathje, an archeologist and anthropologist who directs the Project, and Atlantic managing editor Murphy claim that our garbage problems are solvable; that, with proper safeguards, incineration may be a viable option in some communities; and that paper—not disposable diapers or fast-food packaging—is a chief culprit in overloading landfills.

School Library Journal

“Truth in garbage” might well be an appropriate subtitle for this in-depth examination of how garbage reflects the society that tosses it. Based on the findings of the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona, Rathje and Murphy’s book seeks to dispel current myths while enlightening readers about American society from this unique perspective. They give a historical overview of what the human species has been doing with its refuse since hunter-gatherer times: dumping, burning, recycling, or reducing the amount of potentially discardable stuff. Subsequent sections explain how we unconsciously tell the truth about our lifestyles by what we throw away. Interesting information abounds. The last chapter urges readers to observe a “Ten Commandments” of consumption and disposal, which is based not on what “we think we know” but on what data from studies like this one reveal. claim.—Carolyn E. Gecan, Thomas Jefferson Sci-Tech