Twenty years ago, Rathje founded the Univ. of Arizona's Garbage Project, a program in which students sample, sort, and tabulate the awful offal collected from selected households, landfills, and other repositories of garbage, making comparisons on the basis of time, social class, and other variables. Here, he and Murphy, managing editor of The Atlantic, cull from the record astonishing data to counter many a myth. ""We do not necessarily know many things that we think we know,"" the authors cannily remark. Item: We are about to be buried in a sea of plastics. Not so, say Rathje and Murphy; compacted in a landfill, plastic represents 16 percent of the volume. Paper, on the other hand, represents over 40 percent; food and yard waste 7 percent; construction debris 12 percent. Item: These are the worst of times. No, garbage disposal has plagued all cultures, everywhere. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of dead horses that had to be diaposed of before automobiles came along. The authors speak knowingly of the ancient Maya, lavish wasters at the time of their cultural ascendancy, frugal recyclers when the end was near. There's even a whole chapter on disposable diapers that should reassure many a guilt-ridden parent. And the point is that there are things that can be done to reduce the burden: no single magic-bullet approach, but wise use of a variety of approaches, including sanitary landfills, recycling, incineration, and ""source reduction."" Do not provide consumers with large garbage containers (which automatically become filled in accord with Parkinson's Law), but do charge consumers by the volume of nonrecyclable trash. And so on and on--in a refreshing treatment of a subject not usually associated with refreshment.