EACH SATURDAY EDITION of the Wall Street Journal includes a feature called “Five Best,” in which an expert lists the five best books in his or her field. For instance, during the week I wrote this column, the Five Best were business management books. Since the Journal's e-mail requesting my Five Best garbage and recycling books was apparently stopped by my ace spam filter, I've decided to use this column to pass on these bits of wisdom. They may not be the five best books or even the five trashiest, but I've read all of ‘em, and they will give you a solid grounding in both garbage and recycling.
“Garbage in the Cities: Refuse, Reform and the Environment” by Martin Melosi (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004). Originally published in 1981, Melosi's book is a groundbreaking description of how modern garbage collection and disposal were born out of a reaction to the filthy living conditions that were a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution. Melosi clarifies why what we do is a crucial part of protecting public health. The new edition also assesses the impact of federal and state solid waste and recycling laws.
“Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage” by Bill Rathje (University of Arizona Press, 1991). Rathje has a field day digging into landfills to discover how our culture will be viewed by future generations. An excellent look at history as told by our garbage.
“Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash” by Susan Strasser (Metropolitan Books, 1999). Strasser examines how our society's use of materials has changed in the last 150 years and how these changes have affected how we manage these products when we don't need them anymore. A great look at the evolution of consumer culture.
“Takedown: The True Story of the Undercover Detective Who Brought Down a Billion-Dollar Cartel” by Rick Cowan and Douglas Century (Berkeley, 2003). Unlike Tony Soprano, this is the real thing. The incredible true story of how two courageous men — Cowan, a New York City cop, and Sal Benedetto, a transfer station owner — ended the mob's control of the solid waste and recycling industry in New York City.
“In Defense of Garbage” by Judd Alexander (Praeger, 1993). A contrarian's delight as Alexander challenges the reigning clichés of recycling and disposal.
While I'm at it, I have to add a few other offerings. The ultimate cult classic is “The New York City Garbage Wars,” edited by Gail Frazier (Authorhouse, 2001). Allegedly, the memoir of an accountant for a mob-controlled garbage company, the author takes a romantic look at sociopaths, with loving descriptions of over-the-top Christmas parties and how to keep two sets of books, one for the taxman and one for the boss. Suspense mounts when our accountant hero struggles to reconcile the two sets of books before the boss starts asking questions.
For aesthetes, I offer “Garbage: A Poem,” the National Book Award-winning book-length poem by A. R. Ammons (W.W. Norton, 1993). How can you complain about a poet who declares, “Garbage has to be the poem of our time because / garbage is spiritual, believable enough / to get our attention, getting in the way …”
And finally, for the musically inclined, who can resist “Your cash ain't nothing but trash!” The Clovers couldn't, neither could Steve Miller nor Huey Lewis. You shouldn't either.
Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: [email protected].
The columnist is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.