Professor Carl Zimring Publishes Article on History of Automobile Shredders in Technology and Culture

The July 2011 edition of Technology and Culture features an article Sustainability Studies co-founder Professor Carl Zimring wrote about the history of the automobile shredder.

The article (available to Roosevelt University students via the library’s databases and through Project MUSE to readers worldwide with access to that resource) is titled “The Complex Environmental Legacy of the Automobile Shredder” because it is an example of the unintended consequences that may arising when applying technological innovations to a particular problem. In this case, the problem was the difficulty scrapyards faced in attempting to recycle valuable steel from junked automobiles. As the abstract states:

One of several shredders designed to harvest steel from junked automobiles.


The automobile shredder originated in Texas scrapyards in the 1950s and became one of the most important tools of scrap recycling industries in the second half of the twentieth century. A technological response to the accumulation of disposed automobiles in postwar America, the shredder was lauded by engineers, environmental groups, and industry alike for efficiently reclaiming ferrous scrap metal for industry while simultaneously reducing visible blight from automobile graveyards. One unintended consequence of shredder use, however, was the creation of toxic Automobile Shredder Residue (ASR). This waste exposed operators to substantial legal and economic costs by the 1990s as regulations passed after the shredders’ invention made operators potentially responsible parties for ASR. The history of the shredder is a case study in the complex interactions of technology, environment, and the law, and illuminates present difficulties managing the wastes resulting from complex consumer products.

Professor Zimring discusses pollution issues past and present in his courses, which include SUST 240 Waste and this fall’s online offering of SUST 210 The Sustainable Future. That course begins on September 12. If you are a currently-enrolled Roosevelt University student interested in taking one or more Sustainability Studies courses, please get in touch with your academic advisor. If you are not currently a Roosevelt University student, we encourage you to investigate our degree options, and our course listings. For more information, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email applyRU@roosevelt.edu.

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