Municipal solid waste and its management challenges have been the subject of regulatory attention and engineering innovations for decades. While its hazards are significant, MSW makes up a only small percentage of the nation’s waste stream. This presentation briefly explores the history of MSW in urban contexts, highlights some advances that both mitigate and exacerbate garbage problems, and suggests that more durable solutions require a shift of focus.
Robin Nagle is anthropologist-in-residence with New York City’s Department of Sanitation. Her book Picking Up, an ethnography of the DSNY, includes accounts of her time on the job as a sanitation worker. She holds a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University and is a clinical professor at New York University, where she teaches environmental studies, anthropology, and discard studies in the undergraduate Liberal Studies Program and in the Graduate School of Arts and Science.