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Cash For Your Trash

Cash For Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Cash For Your Trash
    Book Description:

    Over the past two decades, concern about the environment has brought with it a tremendous increase in recycling in the United States and around the world. For many, it has become not only a civic, but also a moral obligation. Long before our growing levels of waste became an environmental concern, however, recycling was a part of everyday life for many Americans, and for a variety of reasons. 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.

    InCash for Your Trash, Carl A. Zimring provides a fascinating history of scrap recycling, from colonial times to the present. Moving beyond the environmental developments that have shaped modern recycling enterprises, Zimring offers a unique cultural and economic portrait of the private businesses that made large-scale recycling possible. Because it was particularly common for immigrants to own or operate a scrap business in the nineteenth century, the history of the industry reveals much about ethnic relationships and inequalities in American cities. Readers are introduced to the scrapworkers, brokers, and entrepreneurs who, like the materials they handled, were often marginalized.

    Integrating findings from archival, industrial, and demographic records,Cash for Your Trashdemonstrates that over the years recycling has served purposes far beyond environmental protection. Its history and evolution reveals notions of Americanism, the immigrant experience, and the development of small business in this country.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-3791-7
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Paul Revere recycled. Readers may be surprised that one of the heroes of the War of Independence participated in an activity we associate with the late twentieth century. Revere did not call what he did “recycling”—that term first was used regularly by the petroleum industry in the 1920s—but he saved old metal objects for reuse, just as we save cans and bottles today.¹

    Revere did not recycle because he was interested in saving the environment; I do not know if he had any particular views on his surroundings, other than that they should not be under the authority...

  5. 1 Rags and Old Iron
    (pp. 12-36)

    Francis Bannerman III was angry. He had received in September 1872 what he perceived to be very poor quality goods from a Glasgow-based scrap trader named Peter Dixon. Bannerman was a Brooklyn-based businessman who bought and sold a wide range of materials ranging from old iron, lead, and copper to rope, waste paper, and war memorabilia. His complaint to Dixon regarded a shipment of grass rope trimmings and waste paper; Bannerman alleged that the shipment featured a small quantity of good material covering inferior materials damaged by tar and water. Bannerman was concerned, for he intended to sell the paper...

  6. 2 New American Enterprises
    (pp. 37-58)

    As the United States celebrated its centennial in 1876, Sigmund Dringer must have reflected upon his remarkable fortune in his new country. Dringer was an Austrian Jew who immigrated to New Jersey at the age of thirty. In the ten years after he entered the country, he rose from driving a junk wagon for a Newark junkman named Max Boehm for ten dollars a week to establishing his own yard in Paterson. According to theNew York Times, he then “won the confidence of the large mill-owners there, extended his business rapidly,” and by April of 1876 boasted an inventory...

  7. 3 Nuisance or Necessity?
    (pp. 59-80)

    Abe and Sam Levinson were successes. Second-generation Jewish immigrants living in Pittsburgh, the two brothers ran a profitable scrap metal yard and rag shop in the city’s Hill District, close to downtown. Their father, James Levinson, had founded the business on Pride Street, starting with a horse and wagon. His grandson Aaron remembers the yard had “all the junk that he could find—old tires and old brass bedsteads, pots and pans, metal of any kind.”¹

    James passed away in 1917, leaving the business to his sons, who continued to build on their father’s achievements, making the business even more...

  8. 4 All Us Cats Must Surely Do Our Bit
    (pp. 81-101)

    In September 1942, the Brooklyn Dodgers offered free admission to fans who brought ten pounds of scrap metal to Ebbets Field. In one day, sixty-five tons of mattress springs, bed frames, pots, pans, and assorted scrap metal were deposited outside the park by grinning fans lined up around the block to get into the game.¹ Almost a year later, Girl Scouts and other youth organizations across the United States collected scrap materials for the war effort.² An observer from 1928 would find these scrap drives puzzling. The people who handled scrap back then were either in private business, employed by...

  9. 5 Size Matters
    (pp. 102-130)

    A festive mood was in the air in Michigan on 14 July 1966. On this day, Carl S. Albon, president of the Ogden Corporation subsidiary Luria Brothers, and Ben D. Mills, vice president of purchasing for the Ford Motor Company, led a group of men from both firms in turning over the first spadeful of earth at the two companies’ joint venture in Taylor Township in suburban Detroit. Ford agreed to let Luria Brothers build a $3.5 million automobile fragmentation plant on the site, as well as a second plant in Cleveland. Luria had built a prototype of these plants...

  10. 6 It’s Not Easy Being Green
    (pp. 131-162)

    To say that Michael Bloomberg entered his term as mayor of New York City at a difficult time would be an understatement. Elected shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Bloomberg assumed his duties in the wake of tragedy and severe budget shortfalls. He attempted to find savings wherever he could in his first few weeks in office. Bloomberg’s administration announced in April 2002 that one of the cutbacks in the city’s budget would be the elimination of curbside pickups of glass and plastic containers. New York City Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty said that while the city...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 163-170)

    If the developments of the past two centuries provide any continuity with the future, Americans’ conflicting notions of what waste is will continue to foster tensions in how we use and reuse materials. Americans want to consume with no limit and to have clean homes and bodies. Americans also desire clean air, water, and landscapes.

    A consumer culture defining waste as filth produces the expulsion of more matter out of American homes on the grounds that old objects are less sanitary and inferior to new objects. Industrial definition of waste as inefficiency produces the demand for affordable materials, including those...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-194)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-204)
  14. Index
    (pp. 205-220)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-222)