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‘Garbologist’ Rathje Dies; Studied Waste for Cultural Clues‘Garbologist’ Rathje Dies; Studied Waste for Cultural Clues

Allan Gerlat

June 7, 2012

1 Min Read
‘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.

About the Author(s)

Allan Gerlat

News Editor, Waste360

Allan Gerlat joined the Waste360 staff in September 2011 as news editor. He was the editor of Waste & Recycling News for the first 16 years of its history, and under his guidance the publication won 27 national and regional awards.

Before Waste & Recycling News, Allan worked at another Crain Communications publication, Rubber & Plastics News, which covers rubber product manufacturing. He began with the publication as associate editor and eventually became managing editor, a position he held for nine years.

Allan is a graduate of Ohio University, where he earned a BS in journalism. He is based in Sagamore Hills, in northeast Ohio.

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