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Garbage: A Reflection of the Way We Live

better! bigger! more! logo As our society changes, the things in garbage also change. Wars, fads, inventions, boom times, and bad times affect what and how much is thrown away. See how typical household garbage has changed over time.

1890s Coal and wood fires heated most homes and buildings, so people had to discard lots of ash. Few people had trash cans in their homes. They fed kitchen waste to dogs and pigs; threw garbage into streets, gardens, and outdoor toilets; and burned some trash.

1950s After World War II, the U.S. population grew quickly. Many families had more money to buy new clothing, cars, and furniture, even when the old ones weren't worn out. New disposable products encouraged spending -- and waste. People didn't think about recycling -- resources seemed limitless.

1990s In the never ending search for convenience, we've filled our homes and work places with time and energy saving products and gadgets. Television images and 52 billion pieces of direct mail advertising flood our lives each year offering Bigger! and Better! stuff we can't live without--and we don't.

activity icon Activity: Trash Audit


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