Archive for the ‘Intellectual Trash’ Category

Trashonomics and the power of good journalism

Saturday, March 15, 2014

This morning a friend shared this beautifully-written tribute to Matthew Power, a journalist who died recently while reporting in Uganda. I didn’t know Power’s work before reading this piece, but the author Abe Streep’s description of his friend compelled me to seek it out. As someone who works in global health and travels frequently to places haunted by thrill-seeking writers and photographers, I found this line particularly intriguing:

Matt traveled to hard places, but he didn’t court danger.

Clicking through to a link shared in the tribute, I found “The Magic Mountain,” a sprawling Harper’s article written with old fashioned take-me-there charm. In it, Power simply and elegantly tells the story of a giant trash heap that piled up in Quezon City, Philippines, and the community of people who now live and eek out a life in its shadow.

The Volta

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy new year, trashies!

The Volta has a fabulous trash issue up, which I suspect you will want to read in full. First of all, there are separate sections and each have names, including a section entitled Landfill.

Some highlights:

For those of you feeling a little academic in 2014, check out this thought-provoking essay by Ted Mathys on how we depict and describe garbage and waste pickers and why it matters.

Dana Maya has a prosy poem called Trash Talk that’s worth reading.

There’s a feature on artist Alice Notley, who makes fans from trash, a photo slide show of Dead Horse Bay and all kinds of other good stuff.


Alice Notley fan made from trash via The Volta

My grandmother’s closet

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Zady, the company I told you about in this nepotistic post, is now live. Among the stories behind the brands featured on the site you will find an essay on my incredible grandmother who hated waste and who would be so proud of my sister and her friend Maxine for the business they launched today.

Calvino on consumption

Monday, June 10, 2013

This month on the New Yorker Fiction podcast, Robert Coover reads Italo Calvino‘s short story “The Daughters of the Moon.” In his conversation with New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, Coover says he teaches this story to expand his students’ understanding of straight narrative. It’s a rule-breaking story that feels both ancient and modern and covers many topics. Chief among these is waste and consumption.

In this world where every object was thrown away at the slightest sign of breakage or aging, at the first dent or stain, and replaced with a new and perfect substitute, there was just one false note, one shadow: the moon. It wandered through the sky naked, corroded, and gray, more and more alien to the world down here, a hangover from a way of being that was now outdated.

Have a listen and check it out for yourself.

Summer Reading List

Friday, July 6, 2012

Trash wonks, prepare for your dirty little hearts to explode. Discard Studies, the online hub for scholarly waste, just posted a meta reading list that should keep you occupied all summer and many seasons to come. It’s a compilation of syllabi from your favorite trashademics.

I can’t wait to dig through the course reading assignments from garbology classes taught at NYU, Evergreen, Johns Hopkins, UC Berkeley and other institutions for classes with amazing titles including: “The Joy of Garbage,” “Fetishist, Collector, Hoarder,” and “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Politics: Sex, Drugs, and Garbage.”

What a resource!


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Early in Alexis M. Smith‘s novel Glaciers, the protagonist Isabelle finds a postcard in a junk store. It reads:

Dear L —

Fell asleep in a park. Started to rain. Woke up with

my hat full of leaves. You are all I see when I open

or close a book.



I hope one day to send or receive such a perfect note. Finding value in old things, ruminating on the lives led by their former owners and never throwing them away forms one of the novel’s central themes. Smith fills the short chapters with hauntingly beautiful strings of words describing childhood memories in Alaska and adolescence in the Pacific Northwest, contrasted with a day in Isabelle’s present-day life as she navigates those delicious moments when a crush becomes a Real Possibility.

I discovered Glaciers at the one-year anniversary party of one my favorite literary organizations, Late Night Library, where the author read from the book. The Late Night Library podcast, produced by my friend Erin Hoover and her collaborator Paul Martone, features first books by emerging authors. I recommend subscribing if you love poetry, fiction, intelligent conversation and free content.

Geeky Garbage

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Local trashies, mark your calendars! Monday, February 20th at 7:30pm our favorite anthropologist in residence Dr. Robin Nagle, an expert in the city’s oldest dumps and a third yet-to-be-named person will speak at this Gelf Magazine event:

If we are what we throw away, then what we throw away is worth a close look. Join Gelf on Monday, February 20, at 7:30 pm at The Gallery at LPR for Geeky Garbage, a look at that most overlooked aspect of the overlooked—civilization’s waste. We’ll have on hand the New York City sanitation department’s resident anthropologist and an expert on some of the city’s earliest landfills to talk about what really happens when we throw something in the trash, and how it impacts everyone.

Everydaytrash will be there.

San Man Legacy

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I got all excited when I downloaded the latest Moth podcast this morning and read the description: “A young man struggles with his role in the family sanitation business.” Luckily, this week’s installment lived fully up to those inflated expectations. It’s a sweet New York story and well worth a listen. Thank you, Terence Mickey, for brightening my morning commute. The outro references a novel in the works called The Gleaners. Trashtastic title, can’t wait!

The trashtastic journey

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Remember that high tech tagging project to map waste streams called Trash Track? Well, this morning via Visible Trash, I discovered that they now have an amazing intro video featuring the award-winning data visualization to come out of the project.

Science follows art. Part of what I love about this project is that it reminds me of tagging butterflies, something my kindergarten class once did. We pressed tiny number stickers to the wings of Monarchs in the hopes that researchers down in Mexico would spot them and write them down. I wonder if anyone is using electronic tags to create magical animated infographics of butterfly migration. I shall investigate.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A minimalist post for a minimalist concept: click here for details then follow #Less365 on Twitter.

Recovering plunderer

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Streaming TED talks is a dangerous habit. It’s so hard to watch just one. This morning, via the TED Blog, I discovered this great presentation by Ellen Gustafson, founder of something called The 30 Project that looks at how food systems have changed since 1980 and tries to undo some of the damage.

Maybe because it’s Ramadan—a time of year when many of us across the planet are extra attuned to issues of hunger and poverty—I found her talk to be extremely compelling. In particular, she makes great links between the underlying causes of hunger and obesity and pokes holes in oversimplified responses that aim to feed the hungry.

Anyway, with the exception of critiquing canned food and canned food drives, Gustafson doesn’t get much into issues of waste and recycling. So, of course, I had to go rooting through TED vaults where I came across this talk by legendary Ray “the green CEO” Anderson. I am always skeptical of businessmen hawking good causes. And Anderson, like any other CEO has an incentive to promote his company’s public image. But I am consistently absorbed when I see clips of this guy and his near-religious passion for treading lightly.

I’ll admit, I zoned out a bit when he got too into his own math equations, but tuned right back in when he defined affluence as a means to an end, rather than the goal in and of itself. Simple, but critical framing. We don’t amass stuff just to have stuff, we do it because we think it will make us happy. See what you think.

Ecology is the new opiate of the masses

Monday, August 1, 2011

The sometimes kooky and always entertaining philospoher Slavoj Žižek offered these thoughts on humans and our evolving relationship with trash and nature for the documentary Examined Life.

My favorite line: “No! You call this porn?”

If you haven’t seen it, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is an excellent rental choice.

Thanks for the tip, Tony Do!

Marine transfer stations

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

After reading this article, I dug up my city’s solid waste management plan a.k.a. SWaMP to reread this chapter and refer to the map below. More to come. Consider this a heads up, trashies. I may wonk out on you for a post or few.

Transfer points for NYC garbage

The World is Full of Garbage

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I met artist Tony Do at a picnic this weekend where we discussed, at length, crunchy rice dishes from our respective cultures (yum and yum) and, briefly, garbage and art (though never garbage art). It wasn’t until emailing after the fact that I discovered Tony himself is a trash artist, as evidenced by this conceptual upcycling of Douglas Huebler‘s famous piece.

Here’s what Tony has to say for himself:

The first generation of conceptual artists like Huebler attempted to de-materialize the art object by displacing it into language. One of the most important consequences of this form of production was the disruption of the process of exchange by which art becomes a commodity, and therefore the  process through which art constitutes cultural hegemony. However, for various reasons the displacement of objecthood could not be sustained, resulting in the reintegration of materiality and the transformation of conceptual art into “post conceptual” art. This is where we are today. My intervention into Huebler’s seminal piece is a critique of his desire for pure objectivity (I argue that his displacement of the object is made possible through the sacrifice of subjectivity), and at the same time is a recuperation of his critical method. Through a gesture that is basically a form of recycling, my version becomes a critique of all forms of garbage–both material and conceptual art and as well as non art.

Check out other example’s of Tony’s work here and here.

The Edo Approach

Monday, July 25, 2011

Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) faced many of the same energy and environmental resource problems that the Western world faces today—namely shit running out fast.

I bring this up because a friend recently lent me an interesting book on the topic, Azby Brown‘s Just Enough: Lessons in Green Living from Traditional Japan. Using emblematic stories (“They are not fables. They are depictions of vanished ways of life told from the point of view of a contemporary observer, based on extensive research and presented as narrative), Brown lays out the life of the farmer, carpenter and samurai illustrated with hand-sketched diagrams of the design and tools employed by each to live as efficiently as possible.

Wood sketch

Each of the book’s three parts begins with a description of a particular category of citizen’s life during the period in question followed by these whimsically mapped out drawings, which in turn precede short bulleted chapters on what lessons we modern folk can extract, update and apply to our present day communities. Suggestions range from plant a garden to my personal favorite: “Build homes that are inspirational.”

Bath sketch

It’s an entertaining approach to the potentially dry topic of conservation, with the soothing message just enough repeated throughout. Garbage per se comes up infrequently because the Edo days produced little waste and found new uses for byproducts. The best illustration in the book is a centerfold spread of rice production, mapping how every part of the crop is named and used including hulls upcycled into “footwear, hats, aprons, mats, bags, rope, brush and many others!!” (Exclamation points are ok if handwritten next to little pictures of rice stalks.)

For those more digital than literary, Brown taped a talk on the Edo approach at TEDxTokyo. Interestingly, it’s pretty dull. The spirit of the book is hearkening back to a simpler time, which somehow doesn’t translate well to PowerPoint. So, if you’re interested, I recommend you get your hands, literally, on a hardcover copy and flip through the pictures.

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