Garbologist Rathje Dies; Studied Waste for Cultural Clues

Garbologist Rathje Dies; Studied Waste for Cultural Clues

William Rathje, a professor who through his extensive anthropological study of waste came to be known as a “garbologist,” died May 24 of natural causes. He was 66.

In 1973 Rathje, an anthropology professor, developed the Garbage Project to learn about the connection between what people threw away and their culture. He had studied Maya culture and realized most of what was excavated was their trash, according to the University of Arizona website. He and his students developed a methodology to examine contemporary waste using archaeological principles. Rathje’s work came to be called “garbology.”

In 1987 Rathje turned to landfills in Arizona and across the United States, and by digging up and examining waste in landfills he disproved what many assumed at the time about the composition of the American waste stream.

In 1992 he collaborated with Cullen Murphy on a book, “Rubbish! The Archaeology of Landfills.” 

He passed away at his home in Tuscon.

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