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Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash

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A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist takes readers on a surprising tour of the world of garbage.

Trash is America's largest export. Individually, we make more than four pounds a day, sixty-four tons across a lifetime. We make so much of it that trash dominates America's place in the global economy—now the most prized product made in the United States. In 2010, China's number-one export to the U.S. was computer equipment. America's two biggest ...

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Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash

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Overview

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist takes readers on a surprising tour of the world of garbage.

Trash is America's largest export. Individually, we make more than four pounds a day, sixty-four tons across a lifetime. We make so much of it that trash dominates America's place in the global economy—now the most prized product made in the United States. In 2010, China's number-one export to the U.S. was computer equipment. America's two biggest exports were paper waste and scrap metal. Somehow, a country that once built things for the rest of the world has transformed itself into China's trash compactor.

In Garbology, Edward Humes reveals what this world of trash looks like, how we got here, and what some families, communities, and other countries are doing to find a way back from a world of waste. Highlights include:

• Los Angeles's sixty-story garbage mountain, so big and bizarrely prominent that it has spawned its own climate, habitat, and tour business.
• The waste trackers of MIT, whose "smart trash" has exposed the secret life and dirty death of what we throw away.
• China's garbage queen, Zhang Yin, who started collecting scrap paper in the 1990s and turned it into a multibillion-dollar business exporting American trash to make Chinese products to sell back to Americans.
• Artisan Bea Johnson, whose family has found that generating less waste has translated into more money, less debt, and more leisure time.

As Wal-Mart aims for zero-waste strategies and household recycling has become second nature, interest in trash has clearly reached new heights. From the quirky to the astounding, Garbology weighs in with remarkable true tales from the front lines of the war on waste.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr. 19)
Kirkus Reviews
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Humes (Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution, 2011, etc.) examines how wastefulness is built into the American way of life. The author shines a spotlight on every aspect of the economy, from corporate practices to the habits of individual families, to substantiate his thesis that "the American Dream is inextricably linked to an endless, accelerating accumulation of trash." Marketing encourages wastefulness, he writes; planned obsolescence is built in to manufactured products, and purchasing the new rather than repairing the old has become the order of the day. The products "all come packaged in instant trash [and] what's inside that packaging is destined to break, become obsolete, get used up or become unfashionable in a few years, months or even days." Humes offers plenty of surprising, even shocking, statistics--e.g., one in every six big trucks in America is a garbage truck; according to the EPA, from 1980 to 2000, "the average American daily trash load increased by a third." This is more than 50 percent higher than in other countries with a similar standard of living. Humes discusses the problem of pollution caused by the proliferation of trash, specifically hazardous, nonbiodegradable waste. He uses the example of Coca-Cola's mid-1960s substitution of plastic for reusable glass bottles to show how companies have cheapened their cost of production at the expense of the environment. The author also writes about families who have enthusiastically adopted more frugal lifestyles to protect the environment, taking simple measures such as downsizing their living accommodations, buying in bulk and not wasting food. He looks at the case of Ireland, where the government has introduced a tax on plastic bags; a similar proposal in San Francisco was blocked. An important addition to the environmentalist bookshelf.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781583334348
  • Publisher: Avery
  • Publication date: 4/19/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Humes

Edward Humes is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author whose eleven previous books include Force of Nature, Eco Barons, and the PEN Award–winning No Matter How Loud I Shout. He lives in Seal Beach, California.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: 102 Tons (or: Becoming China's Trash Compactor) 1

Part 1 The Biggest Thing we Make

1 Ain't No Mountain High Enough 19

2 Piggeries and Burn Piles: An American Trash Genesis 36

3 From Trash TV to Landfill Rodeos 53

4 The Last and Future Kingdom 75

5 Down to the Sea in Chips 97

6 Nerds vs. Nurdles 115

Part 2 The Trash Detectives

7 The Trash Trackers 131

8 Decadence Now 143

Part 3 The Way Back

9 Pick of the Litter 169

10 Chico and the Man 187

11 Green Cities and Garbage Death Rays 221

12 Put-Downs, Pickups and the Power of No 240

Epilogue: Garbage In, Garbage Out 256

Endnotes 263

Index 269

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 28, 2013

    ¿Garbology¿ will teach you more about trash, waste, and garbage

    “Garbology” will teach you more about trash, waste, and garbage in America than you ever thought there was to know about this subject. For example, waste is big business. Landfills were originally a temporary solution that became a permanent practice. The US is one of the most wasteful nations on the planet. Our current rate of waste production cannot be sustained for much longer. Recycling isn’t nearly as helpful as most people think it is. And all of this is evidence of American selfishness, indulgence, and obliviousness.

    Humes’ writing is entertaining and informative. He weaves his narrative so well that it’s quite easy to forget that you’re actually reading about garbage. He also structures this book very effectively—he tells a great deal about the history of waste management in the US, he examines the current garbage crisis, and he offers very practical solutions.


    Obviously, this book is not for everyone. If you like non-fiction, however, give this one a try. You’ll probably enjoy it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted July 15, 2012

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    Posted March 17, 2013

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