For Immediate Release

Trash Talk Lecture: Products, Plastics, Putrefaction, and Power

Cambridge, November 1, 2011 - The majority of urban trash is plastic or biodegradable. What is the best way to manage these materials? Businesses and environmentalists are battling it out right now.

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology presents the free lecture, "Products, Plastics, Putrefaction, and Power: Rethinking How We Manage Materials to Achieve Just Sustainability,"  on Thursday December 1, 2011 at 5:30 P.M. at the Geological Lecture Hall (24 Oxford St., Cambridge). The free lecture will be followed by a public reception at the Peabody Museum (11 Divinity Ave.).

We tend to think about “trash” as all one thing, but trash is composed of sets of materials whose molecular properties, economic status, and cultural meaning are quite distinct. This illustrated talk examines two sets of materials in trash – (1) the wide variety of products known as “plastics” and (2) biodegradables: including food scraps, yard trimmings, and other things that rot.

Coalitions of businesses see a profitable future converting plastics and organics into chemicals and energy. But environmental movements argue to phase out plastics and compost biodegradables. The rift in policy attention, business approach, and social imagination between the two opposing viewpoints is great, and sheds light on how society grapples with materials we discard, and how we might manage materials in a more a more just and sustainable way in the future.

The speaker is Samantha MacBride, Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

About the Peabody Museum
The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.

Hours and location: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children, 3–18. Free with Harvard ID or Museum membership. The Museum is free to Massachusetts residents Sundays, 9 A.M. to noon, year round, and Wednesdays from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. (September to May). Admission includes admission to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. For more information call 617-496-1027 or go online to: The Peabody Museum is located at 11 Divinity Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Museum is a short walk from the Harvard Square MBTA station.

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Media Contact:

Faith Sutter
Communications Coordinator
Peabody Museum
Tel: 617-495-3397

High resolution image available on request.


Plastic products and organic residues, shown here mixed in a bag of trash, make up over 50% of all disposed urban wastes and pose serious risks to people and ecosystems at a variety of scales. Photo by Samantha MacBride

"Products, Plastics, Putrefaction, and Power: Rethinking How We Manage Materials to Achieve Just Sustainability," part of the Peabody Museum Trash Talk series of free lectures, is Thursday December 1, 2011 at 5:30 pm at the Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge.

A public reception follows at the Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge.

Public information: 617-496-1027.