rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 3: p. 263
Sources: Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage
Megan Coder

Associate Librarian, State University of New York at New Paltz

The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage is a two-volume reference work which addresses a multitude of subjects about garbage from what we consume, the products we purchase and put in our waste streams, and the disposal services and methods used to deal with the trash. General Editor Carl A. Zimring, now an Associate Professor of Sustainability Studies at the Pratt Institute, states in the introduction, “What we classify and dispose of as wastes provides rich insight into our behavior, social structures, and treatment of our environment” (xxv).

There are 391 entries arranged alphabetically that have all been written and signed by 196 international contributors. Anthropology, archaeology, environmental studies, history, and sociology are a number of the fields represented, making this an interdisciplinary source. Articles are written for the general reader, and a reader’s guide in volume 1 organizes the essays into eleven broad categories; some of these include “Archaeology of Garbage,” “History of Consumption and Waste,” and “Issues and Solutions.” This encyclopedia is useful for its currency of issues, and readers can find entries on such topics as “Downcycling,” “Freeganism,” “Junk Mail,” “Mobile Phones,” and the “Pacific Garbage Patch.” There are also articles on each of the US states, many other countries, and international cities which discuss the consumption, waste collection, and disposal practices in each territory.

Each entry concludes with a further reading list and cross-references to other topics. Volume 2 provides a glossary, index, and resource guide that consists of books, journals, and websites. One of the more unique features of this encyclopedia is the eighty-seven-page appendix “Garbology 101” in volume 2, written by Consulting Editor William L. Rathje. Rathje was one of the movers and shakers in the field of Garbology, which is “the scientific study of the refuse of a modern society” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. He founded the Garbage Project in 1973, and this initiative has studied the contents of hundreds of landfills across the United States to gain an understanding of consumption and waste patterns. Unfortunately, Rathje passed away shortly after this encyclopedia was published. The “Garbology 101” section along with the entries on the “Garbage Project” and “Garbology” allow readers to learn more about Rathje and his remarkable research and ideologies.

Jacqueline Vaughn’s Waste Management: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO, 2009) is a single volume work that presents information on the history, problems, controversies, and solutions relating to waste management. It provides many more biographical sketches including one about Rathje, but in general is much smaller in scope and is no comparison to the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage.

The “Books” entry dismally states that “the majority of books sooner or later end up in the landfill” due to many factors, one being the overproduction of books (76). I hope the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage never does though and it looks as though SAGE has also made it available electronically for those libraries who are concerned it may someday end up in the waste stream. Highly recommended for both academic and public libraries.



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