Unpacking Trash Compactors

Household trash compactors represent a crucial point in the history of Americans’ relationship with the things they throw away. Invented in 1969 to crush the bulky packaging and other disposable products , the compactor never became a household necessity, contrary to its manufacturers’ hopes. Looking at the compactor’s biography, including its failure as a household appliance, reveals many late-twentieth-century American anxieties, values and attitudes surrounding the act and idea of disposal.

by ANASTASIA DAY                     © MAY 2014

“Trash Compactors.” Consumer Reports, June 1, 1973.

“Trash Compactors.” Consumer Reports, June 1, 1973. Pg. 390.

A 1973 Consumers Reports appliance review opens with this graphic, asking the reader: “Do you really need a $200-plus appliance . . . That merely changes . . . 20 pounds of trash . . . into 20 pounds of trash?”

Put succinctly, this is the conundrum of the trash compactor. It ostensibly worked to fix a problem: the increasing amount of household trash the American people had to contend with. But what trash problem could be fixed in a process that failed to reduce the actual amount of refuse and increased the weight per bag significantly?

This project looks at the trash compactor:

The trash compactor, even from within the house, participated in a network of municipal, state, and federal systems of solid waste management, tying the private to the public and the personal to the political. To the consumers of the appliance, predominately upper-middle-class white homeowners, the trash compactor was important in the late twentieth century process of ‘distancing’ Americans from the unsightly consequences of their own consumption, both mentally and spatially.

If you are interested in this topic, or curious about where these facts come from, see this

Compact Bibliography

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Click to go on to Compactors 101

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