Friday, April 01, 2005
In your film, you document several of the major shifts that occurred in the attitude towards garbage in the U.S. Can you talk a little bit more about the most significant shifts?
It's not so commonly known anymore, but in the 19th century there was a huge amount of re-use going on. A lot of it came from the fact that people couldn't afford to buy manufactured goods because they were so expensive. One of the big shifts came with the Industrial Revolution, when commodities suddenly became much cheaper. The spatial component of the Industrial Revolution transformed the way people lived, so that suddenly people were leaving the countryside and concentrating in cities, to go work in the factories. They didn't have places to save and store their waste like they had in the countryside, so it wasn't as easy to save fat, for example, or scraps of materials to re-use and repair. That, in conjunction with commodities becoming cheaper, meant that people bought more of the things they needed instead of making them themselves. At the same time, there was a transformation in land use practices, because garden markets also grew up around cities, and geography became more important to farming. Formerly, the colonial land use and farming practices entailed using a plot of land until it was exhausted, then moving on to another plot of land. But with the growth of cities, and needing to be close to cities in order to market fruits and vegetables to the people in the cities, farmers had to suddenly start tending their soil in a different way--they started fertilizing. Wastes were sent out of the cities to the country, and produce and hay was sent from the countryside to the city. There was what Richard A. Wines, who wrote a great history of fertilizer (Fertilizer in America: From Waste Recycling to Resource Exploitation), refers to as an "extended recycling system" between the city and the countryside.