Skip to content

Carl Zimring is an environmental historian interested in how attitudes concerning waste shape society, culture, institutions, and inequalities. He is the author of several books that focus on aspects of the histories of technology and the environment, with particular attention to discards and the systems that create, classify, and manage discards.

Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America (Rutgers University Press, 2005) is a history of changes and continuities in how Americans salvaged and recycled materials from the colonial era to the end of the twentieth century. Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (New York University Press, 2015) is a long history of the emergence of environmental racism in the United States, examining how concerns about waste and race in the early republic evolved through the Civil War and Reconstruction, providing the context for structures of environmental racism identified in the late twentieth century. Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017) emerged from conversations with design faculty and students at Pratt. This book considers secondary aluminum use worldwide since World War II as a precursor to twenty-first century attempts at industrial upcycling, with an eye for using history to inform the potential and limitations of contemporary sustainable design strategies.

Collaborative books include Technology and the Environment in History (2020), a monograph written with Sara B. Pritchard. This overview of themes discussed by historians in the Envirotech special interest group of the Society for the History of Technology is the inaugural book in Johns Hopkins University Press’s Technology in Motion series published in cooperation with the Society for the History of Technology. Zimring and Steven H. Corey edited Coastal Metropolis: Environmental Histories of Modern New York City (2021), part of the University of Pittsburgh Press’s History of the Urban Environment series. With William L. Rathje, Zimring edited the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage (SAGE, 2012), an interdisciplinary reference work on a variety of aspects of wastes and wasting throughout history and across the planet. Zimring joined journal editor Fredric Quivik in editing a special issue of IA – The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archaeology on industrial waste and assisted geographer Michael Conzen in editing two volumes of essays on the historical geography of the Illinois & Michigan Canal Corridor.

Articles and review essays include ones published in Environmental History, Technology and Culture, Journal of American History, Reviews in American History, Journal of Urban History, Progress in Industrial Ecology, Ethnoarchaeology, and Entreprises et Histoire. Topics explored in articles and chapters include the complex environmental legacy of automobile shredders, the recent history of New York City’s curbside recycling program, considering the sustainability of land-use in and around Chicago in the recent past, the rhetorical context behind passage of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, the social history of Gilded Age scrap recycling workers in the United States, the historical dimensions of critical discard studies, (with Michael Bryson) the past, present, and future of Chicago’s Bubbly Creek, and (with Joel Tarr) the development of St. Louis’s influential smoke control ordinance of 1940.

Zimring joined Pratt in 2012 to create the Institute’s sustainability studies minor, which he coordinated until 2022. Before arriving in Brooklyn, he helped create the first sustainability studies BA program in Illinois at Roosevelt University. He previously taught at Oberlin College, Michigan Technological University, the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and Carnegie Mellon University. Research support includes funding from the Smithsonian Institution, the Hagley Museum and Library, Columbia University Seminars, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Society for Environmental History’s Samuel P. Hays Fellowship.

Zimring teaches seminars on waste, energy, and the histories of technology and the environment, as well as the general education Sustainable Core course.

B.A., University of California at Santa Cruz; M.A., University of Chicago; M.A., Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University.