A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist takes readers on a surprising tour of the world of garbage.
Take a journey inside the secret world of our biggest export, our most prodigious product, and our greatest legacy: our trash. It’s the biggest thing we make: The average American is on track to produce a whopping 102 tons of garbage across a lifetime, $50 billion in squandered riches rolled to the curb each year, more than that produced by any other people in the world. But that trash doesn’t just magically disappear; our bins are merely the starting point for a strange, impressive, mysterious, and costly journey that may also represent the greatest untapped opportunity of the century.
In Garbology, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Edward Humes investigates the trail of that 102 tons of trash—what’s in it; how much we pay for it; how we manage to create so much of it; and how some families, communities, and even nations are finding a way back from waste to discover a new kind of prosperity. Along the way , he introduces a collection of garbage denizens unlike anyone you’ve ever met: the trash-tracking detectives of MIT, the bulldozer-driving sanitation workers building Los Angeles’ immense Garbage Mountain landfill, the artists in residence at San Francisco’s dump, and the family whose annual trash output fills not a dumpster or a trash can, but a single mason jar.
Garbology digs through our epic piles of trash to reveal not just what we throw away, but who we are and where our society is headed. Are we destined to remain the country whose number-one export is scrap—America as China’s trash compactor—or will the country that invented the disposable economy pioneer a new and less wasteful path? The real secret at the heart of Garbology may well be the potential for a happy ending buried in our landfill. Waste, Humes writes, is the one environmental and economic harm that ordinary working Americans have the power to change—and prosper in the process.
On average, every American will generate 102 tons of trash in their lifetime. Pulitzer Prize-winner Humes (No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court) asks how that number came to be, and what can be done to reduce it. To answer those questions, he interviews an interesting cast of characters, including Mike Speiser, the operator of the massive trash compactor at the Puente Hills landfill in Los Angeles, home to a 130 million-ton pile of waste; archeologist Bill Rathje, "the world's first garbologist," who asserts that "people don't really know their trash But through their trash, we sure do know a lot about them;" and Andy Keller, a vocal and provocative advocate for reusable shopping bags. Humes provides a history of waste management in America, from the use of piggeries in the 19th century (where garbage was fed to pigs) to today's reliance on landfills, and he examines the cycles of consumerism and the advent of plastics as obvious causes of the current trash crisis, pointing to a San Francisco family who lives a "near-zero waste lifestyle" as an example of possible alternatives. In his epilogue, Humes offers excellent tips for being more resourceful, so that our lives might not be "monuments to waste." Humes' take on the science and culture of "garbology" is both academic and deeply personal, making this a fascinating read.
A Blueprint for Our Future
Everyone should be interested in Garbology, since it touches on all of the following disciplines: acquisitions and mergers, archaeology, art, big business, big trucks, biology, business administration, city and regional planning, city government, corporate law, economics, history, marketing, non-profit management, oceanography, politics, recycling, sanitation, solid waste management, and transportation planning. Garbology actually provides a blueprint for how we can all lead happier, healthier, more ecologically sound lives.