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Stockholm museum makes history of garbage

AFP/The Local · 29 Mar 2011, 08:22

Published: 29 Mar 2011 08:22 GMT+02:00

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A Stockholm museum has sought to piece together a tale of Swedish culture and history by displaying what we throw away in a new exhibition called "Garbage".

"We are ethnologists and we are interested in how people live, and we found it interesting to look into how they act when it comes to garbage," says Christina Matsson, who heads up the Nordiska museum in central Stockholm that recently opened a whole exhibit on the topic.

The first and most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the samples of rubbish gathered through the ages is that our garbage has changed dramatically in step with our own changing times.

An 18th-century pair of discarded trousers says a lot.

It was worn until faded and threadbare, repeatedly mended, darned, patched until it was finally used to help to fill in a large crack in a wall and block a cold draft.

Compare that to a pair of 2010 hip, Swedish branded jeans, which have been industrially "pre-used" and ripped, and carries a sales notices informing the consumer that the "new" product has "half the life but double the look."

Another stark contrast can be seen in a modest, antique doll from the Swedish Lapland, dressed simply in a ragged piece of cloth cut from a worn-out old curtain.

The caption below the doll showcase reads: "Young Swedes today on average

have 536 toys during the course of their childhoods."

Reusable, cotton sanitary napkins, broken china repaired with metal staples, carpets made entirely out of used and left-over fabric scraps: recycling is no modern concept -- in the squalid 18th and 19th centuries it was the norm.

"What we want to show is that during that period, nothing, or virtually nothing was garbage," explains Lena Landerberg, the exhibit curator.

That mentality abruptly ended around 1920, when the "garbage-emptying" era set in, lasting unabated until the early 1980s.

Things were consumed and tossed aside at a dizzying speed, and few questioned the reining attitude until a gradual ecological awakening first brought us garbage bags at the end of the 1960s and eventually the idea of sorting and recycling our trash.

Today, Swedes each on average throw away about a half tonne of garbage every year -- which is still three times less than the average American -- if you only count their domestic "production".

"Our objective is to push people to think. We do not want to point a finger. People are raising lots of questions and a lot of them are trying to show an environmentally responsible attitude," says ethnologist Erik Ottosson-Truvalla.

Story continues below…

After having interviewed and observed many people in the process of discarding their garbage, he says he is most drawn to "the feelings" that, more or less consciously, bind us to the objects we throw away.

"In recycling centres, it is fairly common for workers to set aside the day's finds. It is like a short break before destroying them, an improvised, temporary exhibit," he says.

Curator Landerberg meanwhile stresses that our trash "raises difficult questions."

"Why do we keep, why do we throw away? Why can a thing be considered garbage by one person and not by another? Garbage is often a question of point of view," she says.

The small temporary exhibit is included in the general entrance fee to Nordiska (80 kronor, €9, $13, but free for anyone under 19 years of age), and will be on display until September 25th.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

08:40 March 29, 2011 by mikewhite
What happened to the pop group of the same name after they did the Bond theme ?
11:25 March 29, 2011 by BrittInSweden
I know what I consume. I buy it.

Don't need a museum to tell me that.
12:22 March 29, 2011 by Swedesmith
I'd like to make a donation...
14:56 March 29, 2011 by Syftfel
Any museum making history of garbage must necessarily include the logo for the social democrat party.
00:20 March 31, 2011 by redfish
Yes, in the US at least we got pushed on us at school the nonsense that only Native American cultures used every part of a material and recycled it into what we needed. As the exhibit points out, it was something very common in Western society also.

But even today in industrial processes, its very common. Animal waste products are used for all sorts of purposes. The problem with trash today comes from the consumer end, not the producer end. Of course, corporations cater to this proclivity of consumers and produce items that are meant to be thrown away and replaced. There was a different ethic about trash when most people worked in production (agriculture, manufacturing, small trades) rather than in the service industry.
00:08 April 4, 2011 by Michaelidare
Just wrote something regarding how Sweden hides it's physical garbage which is a picture of how people in Sweden are hiding their moral garbage.


19:45 April 9, 2011 by Rebel
Do they have room for a Gripen?
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