top of page

GARBAGE / Vol. 65, No. 1 (Spring 1998)

Arien Mack, Editor

In the mass media, in public debate, and in the workplace, the fear is often voiced that garbage and waste may be the death of us and, even if they do not kill us in some apocalyptic eco-disaster, they seem to have pushed into crisis many of the political, legal, and technological arrangements we depend upon to protect the orderly functioning of society. The moral and political stakes created by garbage and waste invite philosophical consideration in terms of distributive justice, freedom, and the general will. It is these issues to which the current issue is directed.

This article discusses various technical definitions of waste. In general, noun waste may be defined as 1) designating whatever is produced by any system that is not the targeted, designed, and intended product of that system 2) and needs to be expelled in order that the system continue to function. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as a useless expenditure or consumption; squandering of money, goods, time, effort, etc. Waste of garbage, refuse, and so on could be thought of as a waste of substance by the manufacturing process itself--that there is any useless, let alone noxious, byproduct is a kind of implicit rebuke to a notion of total efficiency.

This article examines the moral issues in the problem of garbage in the 20th century. The article will often draw comparisons to other problems of pollution, which is the more general class of problems to which garbage belongs. The moral issues include conflicts between nations and generations that result from external effects of garbage disposal, the morality of pricing these external effects. This paper discusses the direct pricing of garbage handling itself, the role of moral commitments in getting individuals to handle the problem directly by recycling, and the possibility that garbage can become a resource rather than primarily a burden.

This article discusses various connotations of the word waste. The paper adheres with the meanings of waste as defined in US law and common municipal and industrial practice. Two categories of waste are relevant for purposes of this essay. Trash from homes and businesses is called municipal solid waste. The outpouring of manufacturing processes is classified as industrial waste. Using the two categories will allow us to view waste practices and attitudes of both producers and consumers. In contrast to the two categories, wastes that are legally determined to be hazardous or radioactive have strict management regimes under the regulatory authority of the US federal government.

This article discusses various solutions to waste problems besides the market solutions proposed by World Bank chief economist Lawrence Summers in the World Bank memorandum in 1992, urging that rich countries export their hazardous wastes to poor countries. Hierarchies, social sanctions, such as statutory regulations, that are enforced, without fear or favor, on the marketplace actors by the nation state in all its authoritative majesty, is one of the solutions that springs to mind. There is a third solution called egalitarianism and this, not hierarchy, is the main source of the bitter resistance to Lawrence Summers's market solution.

This article focuses on the refuse history of New York City. The city suffered a cholera epidemic in July 1849. The specific mechanisms of cholera's danger were unclear--popular theories ranged from atmospheric agents such as ozone, electricity, and miasmatic fogs to phenomenon such as animalcules and fungoids. Slaughterhouses and bone-boiling industries were ordered closed for the duration of the epidemic. Brooklyn Ash Removal Co. has the contract to remove all ash and refuse from Brooklyn. When another change in political tectonics finally put Brooklyn Ash out of business, the city resolved itself of its reliance on private monopoly and managed its wastes itself.

This article explores time use, attitudes toward time, and the generation of municipal solid waste in the US. Time use and perceptions of the availability of time play an important role in solid waste management. Use of time can influence waste generation at many stages in the product life cycle. Changed shopping behavior can alter waste generation in other ways, by shifting purchases from retail settings to mail order catalogs. Time factors shape the use of goods as well. The research reviewed in this paper provides some clues on the connections between time use and waste generation.

This article addresses the claims of a small but vocal chorus of anti-environmental interests that has tried to cast doubt on the value of recycling, perhaps the most widely practiced and most basic of all environmental policies. Similar attacks have been launched against reports that confirmed industry's damage to the earth's biodiversity, as well as those revealing the threats posed by lead poisoning, ozone depletion, and greenhouse warming. The infrastructure for recycling has expanded over the years, and as demands by US citizens and state and local officials that consumer-products companies accommodate higher levels of recycling have intensified.


bottom of page