North American Waste Management

May 31, 2017

Clean Harbors breaking ground

Though we are the most wasteful people in the history of the world, very few of us know what becomes of our waste. In Waste Away, Joshua O. Reno reveals how North Americans have been shaped by their preferred means of disposal: sanitary landfill. Based on the author’s fieldwork as a common laborer at a large, transnational landfill on the outskirts of Detroit, the book argues that waste management helps our possessions and dwellings to last by removing the transient materials they shed and sending them elsewhere. Ethnography conducted with waste workers shows how they conceal and contain other people’s wastes, all while negotiating the filth of their occupation, holding on to middle-class aspirations, and occasionally scavenging worthwhile stuff from the trash. Waste Away also traces the circumstances that led one community to host two landfills and made Michigan a leading importer of foreign waste. Focusing on local activists opposed to the transnational waste trade with Canada, the book’s ethnography analyzes their attempts to politicize the removal of waste out of sight that many take for granted. Documenting these different ways of relating to the management of North American rubbish, Waste Away demonstrates how the landfills we create remake us in turn, often behind our backs and beneath our notice.

List of Illustrations

Interlude: A Note on Drawing and Ethnography
1 Leaky Bodies
2 Smells Like Money
3 Going Shopping
4 Wasteland Historicity 
5 Ghostly and Fleshly Lines

 Index

Joshua O. Reno is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Binghamton University.

"Waste management in industrial society is designed to be out of sight and out of mind. Joshua O. Reno's vivid account of work on a Michigan landfill illustrates the human consequences of disposal in North America. Waste Away is a valuable contribution to our understanding of discards and the people who work with discarded materials."—Carl A. Zimring, Associate Professor of Sustainability Studies, Pratt Institute
"Can waste exhilarate and mortify simultaneously? Can it make you draw closer even while cringing? Joshua O. Reno brings all the dynamism of trash—too often denied or disavowed—into view. He lucidly shifts waste from an afterthought to a front-and-center cultural artifact that explains us all too well."—John Hartigan, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies, University of Texas, Austin

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