Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America

Long before our growing levels of waste became an environmental concern, recycling was a part of everyday life for many Americans. From rural peddlers who traded kitchen goods for scrap metal to urban children who gathered rags in exchange for coal, individuals have been finding ways to reuse discarded materials for hundreds of years. Scrap recycling was an important part of the American Jewish experience during the era of mass migration, providing an entry into the economy for those willing and able to identify value in the waste heap. This talk will discuss the rise of the scrap trade and important changes as it evolved into the recycling industry we know today.

Carl A. Zimring is an environmental historian interested in how waste management practices shape society, culture, institutions, and inequalities. He is Professor of Sustainability Studies at Pratt Institute, and his books include Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America (2005), The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste (with William L. Rathje, 2012), Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (2015), and Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective (2017).

This program was recorded live at the Jewish Museum of Maryland on Sunday, February 23, 2020 and was presented in relation to the “Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling” exhibit.