The primary line of marketing that Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and other manufacturers and promoters of trash compactors used to encourage purchases relied on creating distance from the dirt and uncleanliness of conventional garbage bins. “The elimination of garbage is a dirty job and the compactor is the clean, easy and convenient way to get rid of it,” quipped one advocate in 1979. Suggesting the necessity of an electric technology to eliminate filth from the house is entirely consistent with the trajectory of other promotions for household appliances of the twentieth century: the clothes washer, self-cleaning oven, the garbage disposer, etc.
As in most discussions of domestic cleanliness, a division of labor based on gender played an important role: “Give her the key to a cleaner kitchen and an end to messy, smelly, garbage cans.” Here, the husband and provider has implicit responsibility for refuse, while his wife in maintains a pristine kitchen–and both sides gain from compactor use. Indeed, the trash compactor may have served to physically reinforce these roles because of the weight of compacted trash; the Atlanta study noted in the majority of households, men took out the trash, while women replaced the bag – the sanitary half of the job. Print advertisements invariably showed women filling, but rarely emptying the compactor, modeling these practices for consumers.
The prominent advertising theme of saving-labor and preventing-drudgery was also gendered. Since taking garbage outside the house was a ‘male’ task, it was men who recieved liberation from labor; one typical early review of the trash compactor noted it was not “merely a housewife convenience” but had “usefulness for the whole family. For the man of the house, it eliminates the annoying daily trips out to the garbage pail and the horsing around of heavy kitchen trash cans.” Whirlpool itself claimed the compactor would eliminate “drudgery.”
Another strong thread running through trash compactor promotion was that of environmental benefits. The trash compactor emerged at a time when the discourse of waste management was incorporating environmental health, as well as public health. Because it reduced waste volume and could save landfill space, promoters of the appliance argued that it “should gain acceptance by ecologists.” Whirlpool touted it as “forerunner of a whole new generation of appliances that will help improve the quality of the environment.” If we can believe in the integrity of Popular Science magazine, then this did turn into a motivation for consumer purchase; a personal use report noted a trash compactor “postpones the day when we’ll drown in a sea of trash.”
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