Tucson Garbage Project

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The Tucson Garbage Project is an archaeological and sociological study instituted in 1973 by Dr. William Rathje in the city of Tucson in the Southwestern American state of Arizona.[1] This project is sometimes referred to outside of academic circles as the "garbology project".


Dr. Rathje (also known affectionately as "Captain Planet") and his students studied the contents of Tucson residents' waste in order to examine patterns of consumption. Quantitative data from bins was compared with information known about the residents who owned them. The results have shown that information people freely volunteered about their consumption habits did not always tally with the contents of their waste bins. For example, alcohol consumption was proven to be significantly higher in reality than in the questionnaires completed by the people studied. Such findings have highlighted the difference between people's self-reported and actual behaviours.

Such findings cast doubt on the reliability of the historical record when applied to archaeological sites in general and follow a processualist approach stressing the benefits of scientific analysis.

The project has since expanded to other American cities and has undertaken excavation of landfill sites.


  1. ^ Rybczynski, Witold (July 5, 1992). "We Are What We Throw Away". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-23. Since 1973, a group of anthropologists at the University of Arizona has been conducting a series of systematic archeological digs, minutely sifting, classifying and recording the contents of more than 14 tons of excavated material. The site of their investigation, however, has not been ancient burial grounds or prehistoric settlements, but urban landfills -- in other words, garbage dumps. 

Further reading[edit]

  • William Rathje, Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage; ISBN 0-06-016603-7; Harpercollins (hardback, 1992)
  • William Rathje, Once and Future Landfills; National Geographic, May 1991.