Author Archives: Carl Zimring

About Carl Zimring

I study junk and talk trash. Author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage.

Pratt Sustainability Studies Minor Resources

PrattEastBuildingA new semester begins Monday, and Pratt students with questions about the Sustainability Studies minor can find some answers in the following places:

What classes count for the minor? We have a list of the permanent catalog courses that may be used for the minor on the minor’s web site.

How do I declare the minor? Check with your academic advisor to ensure you have enough time in your schedule to complete the minor as well as your major and general education requirements. If you do, download this form and arrange to see me. We’ll discuss your schedule, and once I approve you for the minor you can bring it back to your advisor [EDIT] go to Myrtle Hall and turn it in to the Registrar’s Office and be registered.

When do you have office hours? I hold regular office hours Tuesdays noon-2pm in DeKalb 108. I can also make appointments at other times pending my teaching schedule and committee obligations.

Does Pratt have sustainability resources on campus? Yes, all sorts. If you are interested in integrating sustainability into your design process, I highly recommend visiting the Center for Sustainable Design Strategies in the basement of the Engineering building for brainstorming and options on sourcing materials, evaluating material choices, and assessing design options. (CSDS just moved into a new, larger space; go down the stairs and follow the signs.)

Art students who would like to conserve supplies can check out Turn Up Art’s room to get salvaged materials. Turn Up Art is also in the basement of the Engineering building.

The library’s expert research librarians have developed a set of useful LibGuides for pursuing sustainability research. Here’s one for the Sustainable Core course. We have access to several databases relevant to sustainability, including Building Green (case studies of sustainable architecture projects around the world) and Material ConneXion (materials library in Manhattan with searchable database indexed on materiality issues such as durability, toxicity, recyclability, and just about any factor a designer would want to consider for clothing, buildings, furniture, or the range of designed goods). Access is free for Pratt students logged in through the campus network.

Does Pratt have student groups interested in environmental issues? Yes. Pratt Envirolutions meets regularly during the school year; the faculty advisor in 2015-16 is my officemate Professor Jen Telesca. Pratt’s chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) regularly undertakes political action campaigns related to the environment. Pratt students have also worked with groups such as Greenpeace, though the two organizations above have perhaps the most visible presence on campus.

What do I do if I have questions about the minor that are not answered by this page? Talk with me and I will do my best to answer them.

Our Friend Hudson

Hudson the puppy.

Hudson the puppy.

It started with a message from our greyhound rescue organization. They had a puppy, which is rare in the world of greyhound rescue. Jen, me, and the two older dogs decided we would add the little guy to the household. He came home at Thanksgiving.

It wasn’t always easy, as puppies rarely are. He chewed up the carpet and much of a chair. He went for Huey’s dinner once, resulting in a bite wound under his eye that required stitches. As a young dog, he ate everything he could find on the

Running in the snow.

Running in the snow.

Holding paws with Chloe.

sidewalk, from the bark on trees to cicadas to plastic to rocks. He had big ears that we thought he’d grow into and never really did. (He could make them look like a comb-over.) He had a deformed lower jaw that gave him the overbite of the Simpsons’ dog. And he was unusually narrow for a greyhound, looking like an exaggerated Gorey cartoon of the breed. He adored snow. But he was a smart, sweet guy who was a fast learner that grew into a lovely adult dog. And he was the softest greyhound we’ve ever met, the Velveteen Greyhound.

Deemed unfit to race early on, he got to be a domestic animal from the age of five months, and the cuddliest greyhound we’ve ever known. He tolerated us moving more than a greyhound’s normal comfort zone (zero change preferred) and made new friends in every neighborhood. His friendly demeanor on the street even got him acting work, when a neighbor arranged for him to act in an independent film shot in Fort Greene.

He was a happy, healthy dog right up to the seizure Friday night, and then he was gone. We miss him terribly, but celebrate the time we had with him.

Goodbye old friend.


June 9, 2007-July 31, 2015.

Chicago Recycling Coalition Event July 27: The State of Recycling in Chicago

CRCeventWhen the Chicago Recycling Coalition began, the city had no recycling and put its trash in local incinerators and landfills. Over the years, CRC has fought to provide Chicagoans more sustainable waste management and reclamation solutions. That fight continues, and it can be fueled with beer.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Chicago Recycling Coalition is holding an event at Revolution Brewpub (2323 N. Milwaukee Avenue) Monday July 27 6-9pm.  Have a beer and talk with CRC board members and guests about what’s improved in Chicago recycling, what CRC is fighting to improve, and what Chicagoans can do to get better recycling, yard waste, and composting services from the city in apartments, homes, schools, and workplaces.

A lot is going on in Chicago regarding waste, and not all of it is good. Come to discuss Blue Cart, the plastic bag ban, the Burke-Hansen ordinance “requiring” multi-unit dwellings to offer residents recycling services, and much more.

Featured speakers include:
Claire Micklin, who co-developed the eye-opening My Building Doesn’t Recycle! app revealing how many big residential buildings don’t offer recycling pickup)
Chris Bentley, WBEZ Curious City Reporter (who will elaborate on his recent stories investigating Chicago’s Blue Cart program and the Burke-Hansen ordinance)
Meredith C. McDermott, Chicago Public Schools Sustainability Manager (hear what’s going on with recycling in CPS)

Purchase tickets here.
$25 per person includes open bar and light hors d’oeuvres from 6:00 – 8:00 PM
$50 VIP tickets include all of the above PLUS a pre-event brewery tour at 5:30 PM

See the CRC’s website for more information, or follow the CRC on Facebook. (I’m on the CRC’s board of directors and am happy to answer questions about the event.)

The Hammer of the Gods

Michael Dahlquist, shirtless and hammering away at his drums.

Michael Dahlquist, shirtless and hammering away at his drums.

Ten years ago today, I was ten days into a teaching post at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. I had just shaken off the jet lag that comes from moving to a time zone 16 hours ahead and had gotten into the routine of checking messages from the States and watching the national news over breakfast before heading into the office.

The past week had already been rough with news of the London terrorist attacks, and this day started with more bad news. My in-box had several messages, all of which went like this:

“Apparently Silkworm’s Michael Dahlquist and two other guys were killed when some psycho woman rammed their car from behind.”

Michael Dahlquist was 39; his friends and coworkers were Doug Meis (29) and John Glick (35). He had been Silkworm’s drummer for 15 years. Silkworm was a rare band, at the same time deeply accomplished (Andy Cohen was and is one of the most effectively virtuosic guitarists alive, and former member Joel Phelps is my candidate for most talented musician of the past 30 years) and down to earth. After a period of heavy touring, each of the three remaining members after Joel’s departure settled in Chicago, where Andy had decided to attend the University of Chicago’s law school. All fit recording and touring into their jobs and routines; Michael, John, and Doug were on their lunch break from Shure in Skokie when they were killed.

Before their deaths, it seemed Silkworm’s work-music balance and dedication would carry the band long into the future. That was taken away ten years ago. As was a delightful person. I didn’t know Michael well (I’d moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh years before he relocated from Seattle), but I looked forward to seeing Silkworm come to Pittsburgh and when I did see him, he always seemed interested in whichever person he was speaking with. He was also hilarious, evidenced by the tour journal he kept between 1997 and 2005. That journal gives a little evidence to the sweat he’d work up as he hit his drums as hard as anyone I have ever witnessed. Michael regularly taped his sticks into gardening gloves to play.

Michael’s death ended Silkworm. Tim and Andy regrouped into the quartet Bottomless Pit (see this post for an appreciation of that band) and provided beautiful tributes to Michael on their first album Hammer of the Gods (itself a name used to describe a similarly hard-hitting drummer who died too young). Steve Albini wrote a moving obituary for Michael in the Chicago Reader (link opens pdf).

In the years since, a lovely documentary gave visual and audio evidence of what Michael was like. The Silkworm website became an archive and discussants their migrated to the forum associated with Albini’s Electrical Audio studio. There, conversations morphed into a terrific Silkworm tribute album An Idiot To Not Appreciate Your Time which captured the spirit of the band through the lens of 29 fans and friends. That spirit also lives on in the PRF BBQ festivals held in Chicago and everywhere from San Francisco to New York to my onetime stomping grounds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Jon Solomon reminded me of the anniversary with his open letter to Michael today. I saw Jon last month at the annual Chicago BBQ, and his letter reflects my feelings about that event, and how what has been built relates to Michael’s example and why we miss Michael ten years later.

But this post wouldn’t be right without giving Michael the last word. At one point, a few years after Silkworm’s Lifestyle album came out, he took it upon himself to make a video of one of its songs. Most videos are lip-synched to a studio recording. Not this one. Michael performed his own a cappella version of Andy’s song, starring and editing in the video just because he felt like it. Click the link and enjoy “Treat the New Guy Right.”

Chicago Waste, Recycling, and Sustainability Tour Saturday, July 18.

Putting on my hat as board member of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, I want to alert those in the Chicago area about a terrific, exciting, and educational tour the CRC and Southeast Environmental Task Force have put together for Saturday, July 18.
Recycling and Waste Flyer 6-18-15
To sign up for the tour, visit the Southeast Environmental Task Force website or call (773) 646-0436.

A Day for the History Books

Friday was a day for the history books.

Columbia, South Carolina. As the US and state flags fly at half-mast in mourning, the Confederate flag flies at full mast. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Columbia, South Carolina. As the US and state flags fly at half-mast in mourning, the Confederate flag flies at full mast. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

In Charleston, assassinated South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney was laid to rest. His was the first funeral of the nine murdered by a white supremacist. Much has been said and written about the deceased and about the effects of this terrorist act; of particular note are President Obama’s eulogy (link opens the complete video on C-Span) and my onetime Roosevelt colleague Patricia Lessane Williams’s New York Times op-ed she wrote in the wake of the atrocity next door to her workplace at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. Please read Patricia’s entire column. I quote her in part:

I can’t help but think of this senseless act of terror, the largest mass shooting in the country since 2013, within the historical context of the Birmingham bombing, but also within the very current context of the increasing terror we African-Americans face on a daily basis.

The shooter’s reported words to his victims reflect a deep-seated hatred for, and fear of, black people by many Americans. These vitriolic sentiments underscore the way we are stereotyped in the media, demonized and dehumanized by right-wing pundits, policed by law enforcement and terrorized by those who use Stand Your Ground to cut us down without a second thought.

For me, last night’s events signal several visceral truths. One, that we African-Americans have no sanctuary. Charleston is a wonderful city, but in some very real ways, my children are no safer here than they were in Chicago.

This daily threat of terror does not exist within a vacuum. It looms within the growing prison-industrial state, against the backdrop of school-reform debates, our slow movement toward gun reform and the political maneuvers by Republicans to make it increasingly more difficult for poor people and minorities to vote. The reality that our civil rights are under attack is just as heavy as our fear for our lives.

Statue of white supremacist and secession advocate John C. Calhoun on display in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 2015.

Statue of white supremacist and secession advocate John C. Calhoun on display in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in 2015.

One remarkable result of the mourning in Charleston and across the country is a discussion about removing the symbols of the Confederacy from state and federal sites. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol. Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called for the alteration of that state’s flag to remove the stars and bars. US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for the removal of a Jefferson Davis statue from Kentucky’s capitol. And talk has begun about the process of removing statues of several Confederate icons (including white supremacist John C. Calhoun) from the Capitol in Washington DC.

As of this writing, all these symbols remain intact, although Bree Newsome briefly took down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina Statehouse Saturday morning. I hope this discussion leads to the depositing of all these symbols in museums, further removing them and what they stand for from legitimacy in the twenty-first century. Plenty has been said about the flag; more should be said about John C. Calhoun and what he means in the present moment.

That the Capitol should have a statue of the architect of secession always struck me as at best ironic and at worst deeply disrespectful of the millions of Americans descended from the people Calhoun wanted to keep enslaved at any price. Calhoun so fetishized white supremacy that he subscribed to emerging pseudo-scientific racial theories to justify keeping those of African heritage in bondage. (I elaborate on the theories he championed in the second chapter of Clean and White.) Calhoun so fetishized slavery that the onetime vice president articulated a “concurrent majority” legal principle empowering states to nullify those federal laws that do not suit their prejudices. Calhoun so fetishized white supremacy that he laid the groundwork for secession, the ultimate disloyalty to the Union. His statue at the heart of government is an affront to the people and government of the United States of America. Any iconography of Calhoun installed in Washington after April 12, 1861 is a blatant celebration of white supremacy at the expense of people who suffered and died because of what he advocated. Deciding to fly the Confederate flag on state grounds in 1961 (when South Carolina began to do so) is the same.

Removing these symbols will not solve the problems facing this nation. Removing them will not address the causes of lethal violence, segregation, imprisonment, or the economic structures of inequality. But removing them is a necessary move to delegitimizing the appeals to white supremacy that have fueled the nation’s gun culture, redlining, and economic discrimination, as well as the acts of terrorism from the KKK’s bloody “redeeming” of slavery to the blood spilled in Charleston this month. Should removal come to pass, we will no longer see at statehouses state-sanctioned icons of white supremacy enshrined during dark periods of suppression. The flag and statues were added to government property at various times, ranging from the 1860s terror campaigns to the lynchings of the early 20th century and the attacks by law enforcement against Civil Rights protestors in the 1960s. These are the icons invoked by a terrorist in 2015 to kill Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman, DePayne Doctor, and Clementa Pinckney.

Crowds celebrate as the White House is illuminated in the colors of the rainbow after the Supreme Court protects the right to same-sex marriage across the nation.

Crowds celebrate as the White House is illuminated in the colors of the rainbow after the Supreme Court protects the right to same-sex marriage across the nation.

Friday was a day for the history books. On the morning of Pinckney’s funeral, the US Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that same-sex marriage (and the recognition of same-sex unions nationwide) was protected by the Constitution. It was a day that protected the rights and liberties of millions of Americans, a day worthy of celebration, and one historians will discuss decades from now. Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision, declaring that the plaintiffs were “seeking dignity in the eyes of the law,” that “the fundamental liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and belief,” and “no longer may this liberty be denied.”

Dissenting from the majority was my old neighbor Nino Scalia. (Like Patricia Williams Lessane, Nino Scalia used to live on the South Side of Chicago. Similarities end with that geographical fact.) Scalia declared that the Supreme Court had made a “naked judicial claim to legislative—indeed, super-legislative—power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government,” done so by nine justices who were “hardly a cross-section of America.”

Scalia’s intent is clear. By saying the Court did not represent the nation, he echoed the words and sentiment of John C. Calhoun. The onetime vice president declared in 1836 that nothing in the federal government’s power was going to eliminate slavery from those states that depended upon the peculiar institution:

The relation which now exists between the two races in the slaveholding States has existed for two centuries. It has grown with our growth, and strengthened with our strength. It has entered into and modified all our institutions, civil and political. None other can be substituted. We will not, cannot permit it to be destroyed. If we were base enough to do so, we would be traitors to our section, to ourselves, our families, and to posterity…. Come what will, should it cost every drop of blood, and every cent of property, we must defend ourselves; and if compelled, we would stand justified by all laws, human and divine…With these impressions, I ask neither sympathy nor compassion for the slaveholding States. We can take care of ourselves. It is not we, but the Union which is in danger. It is that which demands our care – demands that the agitation of this question shall cease here – that you shall refuse to receive this petitions, and decline all jurisdiction over the subject of abolition, in every form and shape. It is only on these terms that the Union can be safe. We cannot remain here in an endless struggle in defence of our character, our property, and institutions.

Calhoun provided a framework for delegitimizing federal power in order to oppress vulnerable peoples for the comfort of a few. In his career, Scalia has followed that instinct, just this term casting votes to deny millions health care, deny historically discriminated people recourse for fair housing, and, here, to preserve inequality for families based upon sexual orientation. In the past, he has successfully voted to dismantle the Voting Rights Act of 1965, enacted to protect citizens from systematic disenfranchisement. (We may be at ease knowing Loving v. Virginia was decided two decades before he joined the Court.) His attitude toward the most vulnerable of this nation’s peoples is as callous as a parent beating a small child with a belt. At worst, his judicial record fits well with Calhoun’s ideology and the ideologies of those bigots who revere Calhoun.

Happily, all three of his major votes this term were unsuccessful. Indeed, Scalia’s hubris in his United States v. Windsor dissent provided language that bolstered the case decided Friday, so perhaps Americans should thank the justice for letting his ego and tongue run amuck. But Scalia invoking Calhoun on the very day that the corrosive symbolism of Calhoun is finally being addressed shows the measure of the man. The nation’s injustices will not be solved by removing the symbols of the Confederacy, nor will they be resolved on the day Scalia’s time on the Court comes to an end. The toxic legacy of Calhoun in both those symbols and Scalia’s philosophy matter in ways all too tangible today. We will be better with them, and him, relegated to the history books in an open discussion of the long struggles for liberty and justice in the United States of America.