Garbage Capitalism's Green Commerce

Heather Rogers


In American capitalism today, more than ever, the mass consumption of commodities lies at the heart of social life and economic growth, and intrinsic to consumption is garbage. Since the years after World War II, when the US began mass production and consumption in earnest, industry has exerted tremendous effort to manage public perceptions of waste and, beginning in the late 1960s, the more far-reaching ecological impacts of a high-trash system. Garbage is a miniature version of production's destructive aftermath, which inevitably ends up in each person's hands; it is proof that all is not well. Since rubbish has the power to reveal to consumers the realities of an economy that pushes many of its costs onto the environment, garbage has become a key site for corporate 'greenwashing'. Manufacturers neither pay the full price for the raw materials they use in production, nor do they accurately account for the costs of pollution, energy use and the future environmental impacts of their activities. To maintain their relatively unfettered access to nature, as both a resource and a dumping-ground, US companies have had to convince the public that the castoffs they can see--and, by extension, wastes they cannot see, like those created by industry--are benign, and not an indication of crisis.

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