The Garbologist is In: A Brief History of Garbage

The Garbologist is In: A Brief History of Garbage


Just for fun, because it's Thursday and we deserve a treat, let's have a think on the concept of "garbage"... Consider: a candy bar wrapper, an empty soda bottle, and the newspaper you read last Sunday. What do they all have in common? For starters, each is a vehicle for something you want to consume, be it processed sugars or world news. And once you've had your fill, the container becomes secondary thought - its purpose is suddenly complete and so it is re-categorized as "waste." Read on as we dumpster dive into this deeply ingrained process.


The grand narrative of the landfill predates much of modern history. The very first was developed in 3000 B.C. in Knossos, Crete, when people dug deep holes to hide refuse, which they would then cover with dirt. Since then, garbage has been a regularly accepted byproduct of life - one that is tossed and buried, out of sight and out of mind.

Waste management and sanitation were not widely prized for hundreds of years, perpetuating certain standards of living and in many cases, helping to create notorious historical moments, such as the dreaded Bubonic Plague. Paris in the 15th century struggled to maintain city defense as garbage piles rose to monstrous heights directly outside of city walls. In many other European cities, it was common for residents to dispose of rotting food and other trash by tossing it out the window - it was widely believed that wild dogs would consume the refuse. Makes one really look with renewed appreciation at those Febreze odor-seal bags and leak proof bins, huh?

It wasn't until 1842 that the "Age of Sanitation" begins, when a report is released that links disease to grimy environmental conditions. From this point on, handling and treating waste is considered a priority to urban planners and city officials alike. Still, most efforts centered around removing the offending disposables and used goods from city sight, resulting in a whole slew of other trials and errors - like floating barges that erupt in flames and prominent waterways full of toxins. But we'll save all that for another delightful #tbt dumpster dive (stay tuned!).

As a crew of garbologists, dumpster divers and industry enthusiasts, we've been thinking a lot about the power of habit and how garbage has come to mean 'empty,' 'worthless,' and therefore 'devoid of value.' But (most) everything has value, even the objects we consider used, and toss out as "garbage." Once you start putting quotation marks around concepts commonly accepted at face value, you can start to reevaluate them. That's our challenge - we want to see waste in a whole new light, because we see wasted opportunity to collect and reuse. We want to process, handle and move materials in a whole new way, emphasizing responsible recovery. In this way, we can keep your garbage, your waste, your refuse, your recyclables off your mind, but ensure that it makes its way back into new forms in the most sustainable way possible.


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