The Nation: Truth in Garbage

Having made a career of reconstructing long-dead civilizations from random remains, Archaeologist William L. Rathje hit on an idea: Why not use kindred techniques to study a modern culture? So for about four years Rathje and his students at the University of Arizona have held classes at the Tucson Sanitation Division's maintenance yard.

Wearing surgical masks and rubber gloves, they meticulously analyze the garbage thrown out by a representative sample of Tucson households.

Rathje's course—known on campus as Garbageology or Le Projet du Garbage—has produced some intriguing findings. The average Tucson family throws out about 10% of the food that it buys—enough...

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