Garbage: What our trash says about us

Human beings are mere placeholders in time, like zeros in a long number; their garbage seems to have more staying power, and a power to inform across the millennia that complements (and often substitutes for) that of the written word.

William Rathje & Cullen Murphy, Rubbish!
Empty Xbox disc holders found in my trash
Items in trash: 13 plastic packages, 43 old xbox game containers, 4 plastic food containers, 20 old dishes

The plastic packaging indicates a lot of items were ordered from amazon recently, the plastic food containers are specifically from produce ordered from amazon. The old xbox game containers and plastic food containers are the result of spring cleaning. These items and behaviors are all indicative of the change in my lifestyle brought on by the virus.

Garbage is the physical documentation of the impact Covid-18 has had on our lives (“Coronavirus”). For one, the amount of foodstuffs ordered to the house has dramatically increased. Part of that is due to quarantine making ordering food preferrable to risking a drive to the grocers. Even so, the increase in food produts has increased too drastically for it to be explained by me changing where I purchase my groceries. The amount of food waste has doubled because, instead of ordering for a one-person household, I am now ordering for a two-person household. Quarantine has brought my mom back from her work travels and it reflects in our trash.

The increase in other amazon packages is also due to the virus and the subsequent return of my mother. Sharing a home with me again has been a little difficult for us since the house has been altered a bit in her absence. What was once her office has become my study in recent years. In light of that and other changes in space, she has had to order material to create a workspace for two instead of one–sticky notes, desk stands, seat cushions, etc. all to make this feel like her home again.

The thrown out dishes are also a result of her coming home and the quarantine. She suddenly is blessed with enough time to finish the projects she had started before she started traveling for work. This week she finished throwing away aged and ugly dishes from my childhood. It wasn’t a project I ever tried to finish for her, since I couldn’t guess what was important and what wasn’t. Now that she is back she has efficiently sorted through the kitchen to get rid of the objects we don’t need or want anymore. She isn’t the only one who has been inspired to do improve our home though.

Quarantine and my mom have inspired me to do some sorting of my own. I recently went through my Xbox 360 games and moved the discs into a CD binder to cut down on the space they take up. Now, they take up space in the garbage instead.

In fact, every piece of garbage thrown out this week is evidence of the times we’re living through right now. Last month, I had to take the trash out maybe once for the entire 4 weeks because of the little waste I went through by myself.

I can’t help but imagine other households are finding a similar increase in garbage. For one, an increase in packaging is a given as more households make the transition to ordering necessities online. The dishes and xbox game might be unique to our household, but I imagine there is a similar increase in “hobby” trash in every home. This week my mom and I filled our time by cleaning out our home a bit, other households might have filled the time with crafts or makeup–most hobies will have a impact on the trash. While specifics might be a little different, I imagine households across the US will have similar patterns to their garbage right now.

Archaeologists in the future will keep the virus in mind while they look at our at the garbage produced and see the impact of quarantined families: increase online orders and evidence of more time spent on chores and hobbies.


“Coronavirus: Discarded Disposable Gloves on the Street.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Apr. 2020,

Rathje, William L., and Cullen Murphy. Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2001. Print.

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