Category Archives: waste

Aluminum Upcycled Book Talk & Signing in Brooklyn Mar. 25 1:30pm.

zimringpostedI will discuss my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective (available now) at Pratt’s Sustainability Crash Course in Brooklyn Saturday afternoon March 25 from 1:30-2:20pm. 

The Sustainability Crash Course runs from 9am to 5pm with a variety of talks and events at Pratt’s Brooklyn campus (200 Willoughby Avenue near the Clinton-Washington C station and the Classon G station). My book launch will be in Pratt’s Engineering Building at 1:30pm and last about 50 minutes. The event is free, but registration is required.

I will have copies of the book for sale ($30 cash or check, a discount from the $39.95 list price) at the event. Johns Hopkins University Press describes my history of sustainable design strategies this way:

Beginning in 1886 with the discovery of how to mass produce aluminum, the book examines the essential part the metal played in early aviation and the world wars, as well as the troubling expansion of aluminum as a material of mass disposal. Recognizing that scrap aluminum was as good as virgin material and much more affordable than newly engineered metal, designers in the postwar era used aluminum to manufacture highly prized artifacts. Zimring takes us on a tour of post-1940s design, examining the use of aluminum in cars, trucks, airplanes, furniture, and musical instruments from 1945 to 2015. 

By viewing upcycling through the lens of one material, Zimring deepens our understanding of the history of recycling in industrial society. He also provides a historical perspective on contemporary sustainable design practices. Along the way, he challenges common assumptions about upcycling’s merits and adds a new dimension to recycling as a form of environmental absolution for the waste-related sins of the modern world. Raising fascinating questions of consumption, environment, and desire,  Upcycling Aluminum is for anyone interested in industrial and environmental history, discard studies, engineering, product design, music history, or antiques.

Advertisements

Tickets Available for Apr. 29 Chicago Humanities Festival Talk

zimringpostedTickets are now available to the public for my Chicago Humanities Festival talk “What We’re Throwing Away” April 29 from noon-1pm. I’ll have copies of Aluminum Upcycled available for purchase, and will do a signing after the talk.

Sat, Apr 29 | 12 – 1 PM
Venue SIX10
Feinberg Theater
610 S Michigan Ave | Chicago, IL | 60605
  • Members: $12
  • Public: $15
  • Students and Teachers: $10

Carl Zimring wrote the book on garbage. Well, several actually. He has written about environmental racism and scrap recycling and edited the two-volume Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. His most recent work is Aluminum Upcycled, which explores how discarded materials are fashioned into goods of greater value, focusing on aluminum and its crucial role in post-WWII design. With an eye to how attitudes about waste shape culture, institutions, and inequalities, Zimring will offer a uniquely well-informed perspective on the past, present, and future of garbage.

Preorder your copy of Aluminum Upcycled through the CHF box office and save 20%.

A book signing will follow this program.

Tickets Available Now to Chicago Humanities Festival Members for April 29 Talk

zimringpostedTickets are now available to Chicago Humanities Festival members for my Chicago Humanities Festival talk “What We’re Throwing Away” April 29 from noon-1pm. I’ll have copies of Aluminum Upcycled available for purchase, and will do a signing after the talk.

Sat, Apr 29 | 12 – 1 PM
Venue SIX10
Feinberg Theater
610 S Michigan Ave | Chicago, IL | 60605
  • Members: $12
  • Public: $15
  • Students and Teachers: $10

Carl Zimring wrote the book on garbage. Well, several actually. He has written about environmental racism and scrap recycling and edited the two-volume Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. His most recent work is Aluminum Upcycled, which explores how discarded materials are fashioned into goods of greater value, focusing on aluminum and its crucial role in post-WWII design. With an eye to how attitudes about waste shape culture, institutions, and inequalities, Zimring will offer a uniquely well-informed perspective on the past, present, and future of garbage.

Preorder your copy of Aluminum Upcycled through the CHF box office and save 20%.

A book signing will follow this program.

Now Available: Special Issue on the Industrial Archeology of Industrial Waste

IAcoverFresh from the printer, the new issue of IA – The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology (Vol. 39, No. 1 & 2) is available, and it is dedicated to the theme of industrial waste. Journal editor Fred Quivik and I were fortunate to get articles on mining waste, coal ash, arsenic, and automobile graveyards from Sean M. Gorman, Samantha MacBride, the team of Lloyd B. Tepper and Jefffrey H. Tepper, and David Lucsko, respectively. Fred also contributed an article on mine tailings in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene mining district, and my old friend and colleague Mike Bryson and I contributed an article about the past and present of Chicago’s Bubbly Creek, which Upton Sinclair aptly described as “Chicago’s Great Open Sewer” more than a century ago.

As Fred describes in his lead editorial, “this special issue of IA is dedicated to industrial waste and what it can tell us about who we are as an industrial people. Industrial archaeologists typically focus analyses on the artifacts produced by industrial processes, on the equipment and skills employed by people to produce those artifacts, and on the complexes of structures and landscapes that house and support the full range of industrial activities. Careful industrial archaeologists also consider that which industrial activity discards, but such considerations seldom take center stage. This special issue of IA gives the spotlight to waste.”

IA_TOCOur colleagues in this special issue include industrial archaeologists, historians of technology and the environment, and sociologists. We also have reviews of several related books (see the table of contents for details.) The cover image is Edwin Buckman’s A London Dustyard, as featured in Samantha MacBride’s article on coal ash.

For information on how to order a copy, see the journal’s website. Thanks to all of the contributors and especially to Fred for inviting me to guest edit this special issue.

Discard Studies at ASEH in Seattle

Seattle_Farmers_MarketThe American Society for Environmental History meets in Seattle this year, and I am part of two discussions related to waste, technology, and the environment.

On Friday, April 1 at 10:30am, I will chair the panel “Ethereal Wastescapes: Rethinking the Meaning, Place, and Materiality of Pollution,” with papers by Sara Pritchard, Nina Wormbs, and Ruth Rand.

On Saturday, April 2 at 3pm, I will be part of a roundtable discussion on discard studies and history with participants including Martin Melosi, Steve Corey, and Peter Thorsheim. We will, indeed, be talking trash.

The White Privilege of Henry Loeb

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, 1968.

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, 1968.

Today is the 95th anniversary of onetime Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb’s birth. As I discuss in my forthcoming book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (available from NYU Press January 8, 2016, and available for preorder now) Loeb’s life and actions reflect the shifting power relations around white identity in the 20th century, and the ways those power relations were used to exacerbate environmental racism.

Loeb is most famous (or infamous) for his role in the events leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1968 assassination. Dr. King was in Memphis to support a strike of sanitation workers when he was killed. That strike was triggered by Mayor Loeb’s actions.

Loeb became mayor as a champion of white supremacy. That fact does not set him apart from George Wallace, Lester Maddox, or the many politicians who used racist ideology to win and retain office in the 1960s. Loeb’s history, however, illuminates an aspect of white supremacy usually not remarked upon — its association with hygiene.

Loeb was descended from German Jewish immigrants who arrived in Memphis during the nineteenth century. His grandfather opened a successful chain of laundries that employed African-American women to do the hard work of keeping the customers’ clothes clean. The Loeb family grew prosperous off this labor; Henry was born in 1920 into a family of wealth and privilege. He attended Philips Academy prep school and Brown University. His friends included John F. Kennedy (who, like Henry, served on a patrol boat during World War II).

Henry tended to the family business after World War II. He resisted efforts from black workers to organize unions, kept wages and overhead low, and continued to keep the enterprise profitable. He married Mary Gregg, the 1950 queen of the Memphis Cotton Carnival (a celebration of the Cotton South and the Confederacy) and converted from Judiasm to the Episcopal Church.

Having assimilated into the upper crust of white Memphis society, Loeb began a political career. He got elected to the Memphis City Commission in 1955 and began his oversight of the Public Works Department, which included streets and sanitation.

As historian Michael K. Honey observed in his terrific book Going Down Jericho Road, the workers in Memphis’s Sanitation Department charged with collecting garbage were overwhelmingly African American and male. Under Loeb, they were subject to dangerous working conditions and often forced to work an additional hour each day without pay.

Loeb used his experience to run an explicitly racist campaign for mayor in 1959, serving a term before stepping down to run the family business after the manager had died of a heart attack. After four years away, he ran again for the office in 1967, once again winning an explicitly racist campaign.

Mayor Loeb refused to entertain workers’ desire to have their union recognized or their desire for improved working conditions. With tensions rising, two workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were killed on a garbage truck. They were riding on the back of the truck as was procedure in Memphis’s Department of Public Works. In a pouring rain, the two men tried to take cover as best they could by climbing onto a perch between a hydraulic ram used to compact the garbage and the inner wall of the truck. Somewhere along the drive, the ram activated, crushing the two men to death. One had tried to escape, but the mechanism caught his raincoat and pulled him back to his death.

C&WcoverThe men’s deaths led to an immediate walkout. Loeb did not back down, refusing to negotiate with the workers. The history of the strike, Dr. King’s involvement in it, its marches, its violence, Loeb’s refusal to negotiate, and the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination are discussed in Chapter 8 of Clean and White. Available January 8 from NYU Press, the book contextualizes Loeb’s actions in a time when fears about waste and racial purity intertwined, producing new labor markets and spatial arrangements to manage the materials Americans classified as waste. Loeb is one of the actors in a long history of Americans’ often troubled relationship with those wastes and with each other. This is how I remember him on the 95th anniversary of his birth.