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Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage Paperback – March 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. Illustrated. First serial to Smithsonian; BOMC and QPB alternates; author tour.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-- "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.
- Carolyn E. Gecan, Thomas Jefferson Sci-Tech, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816521433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816521432
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating overview of the world of garbology, the science of garbage. The authors begin by describing how the Garbage Project came to be, when students in a 1971 anthropology class at the University of Arizona hit upon studying garbage as a way to study people and culture. The Garbage Project has grown to become one of the leading scientific explorations into garbage, where it comes from, where it goes, and what it does when it gets there. Published results from the Garbage Project have covered such varied topics as changing patterns of meat consumption, using garbage volume to estimate population, and the relative quantities of diapers, newspapers, and plastics in landfills.
One of the most valuable contributions of the book is that it provides historical data to put garbage in perspective. Contrary to many people's beliefs, the authors argue that garbage and where to put it is not a new problem at all. They point out that one of the characteristics that make us human is that we create garbage, and we always have, back to the very first time a humanoid discovered how to create tools by chipping flint. To those who worry about our non-biodegradable trash, the authors remind us that the pottery shards of ancient archeological sites are nothing more than the indestructible refuse of yesteryear. And yet others worry about burying our trash in landfills which doesn't allow normal biodegradation to occur, but the authors point out that this also isn't new, describing an archeological dig of a putrid 2,000-year-old buried dump in Italy. Of course, the main message that the authors express is not that garbage is benign, but that the problem isn't new, and that garbage issues have been a concern since the dawn of civilization.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Francis ( on March 20, 1998
Format: Hardcover
It isn't common to find a good-for-you book on an important ho-hum subject that reads as deliciously as a mystery novel. Rubbish has it all. The principal author, an archeologist by training and founding advisor of the 20 year old Garbage Project at the University of Arizona, knows it all-- how to use poptops to data strata in landfill cores, where people REALLY get their major appliances and what becomes of them, how things stand in the rag and bone trade, what socioeconomic group is most likely to use the giant economy size, why people throw out MORE of a product during a scarcity scare-- and he writes it right. His style is smooth and anecdotal; his attitudes are calm and practical. Dealing with garbage is a (yuck) touchy subject; we need this book to inform our practices.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By J. E. Nelson VINE VOICE on June 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Rubbish" is a highly academic book about "The Garbage Project" at the University of Arizona's Anthropology Department. The main idea behind "The Garbage Project" is to gain information about society by analyzing garbage patterns in various locations.

Despite being a book about garbage, the contents of the book are quite diverse. The book is divided into 4 parts. The first section, An Introduction to the Garbage Project, gives the background of "The Garbage Project", why it started, what they do, and what they hope to accomplish. This section also discusses how anthropologists use garbage to learn about ancient civilizations. The second section, The Landfill Excavations, discuss the basic theories of landfills, how the team takes samples from landfills, and discusses why biodegradation does not work in landfills. The third section, Interlude: Diapers and Demographics, I found to be highly entertaining. This section has a fascinating chapter on estimating the population of a neighborhood (as well as sex and age) based on the garbage collected from this neighborhood (a study done to initially help the Census Bureau). This section is also filled with useless information such as "There is a link between owning a cat and reading "The National Enquirer"". There is also a detailed discussion about disposable diapers in landfills. The final section, Garbage and the Future, was the most educational by far. This part discusses the serious shortcomings of citywide recycling programs and side effects people never hear about. There are also discussions on alternate garbage disposal methods, such as high tech incinerators used to generate electricity, as well as several other attempts at using technology to turn garbage into a useful product.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Spencer Patterson on June 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
As someone from a a profession where problem solving is a core ability, I was amazed from chapter to chapter how the members of the Garbage Project went about their endeavors to successful results. They truly show how something so ubiquitous(garbage) can contain so much information about our lives and our behaviors.
The men and women involved in this research project open the bag on the realities of this human behavior to shed light on how we act as consumers and as members of society in general. Our political tendencies are also exposed in investigating how groups endeavor to address the issue of solid waste disposal, often to unbelievable results, totally contrary to the desired end goal.
I wholeheartedly agree with some other reviewers in that this should be required reading for anyone interested in environmental issues, from the simplest aluminum can collector to the most active environmentalists.
This is billed as an archaeology book, but I would call it more accurately an environmental/psycological/science read, never very technical, often entertaining and always eye-opening.
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