A History of U.S. Trash in Three Acts: From the Golden Age to the Anthropocene

Authors: Barbara MacLennan*, West Virginia University
Topics: Environment, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Policy, Geography, Environment, GIS
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The purpose of this paper is to explore the spatial history of trash from the Golden Age of Trash to today’s Anthropocene. Current approaches to examining waste policy and praxis focus heavily on the quantification of trash collection and disposal often at Federal and State scale. While the quantification and typological classification of trash disposal play a key role in terms of theme, time, and space, it does not capture the full sentiment that is the solid waste system. This trash record is often incomplete and sparse, and in stark numbers alone often obscures the policies and practices that appear seemingly unconnected to the solid waste system. These most often occur at the local scale where policy becomes praxis. Such omissions create an incomplete picture of the history of solid waste handling and fail to capture the complex and often quixotic nature of waste praxis and policy. To understand the impact of major events such as the impact of China’s waste policies across the world, first, geographers need to understand the complex spatial history of U.S. trash.

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