Friday, July 6, 2012


Archaeologist William Rathje, the original garbologist and the Oxford English Dictionary define garbology as, "the study of a community or culture by analyzing it's waste." (page 136 of the Nook edition) Across his or her lifetime, every American will, on average, generate 102 tons of trash. (page 11) This figure only accounts for the trash each of us throws out. It does not include all the waste and pollution generated to produce, package, or transport everything we end up throwing away. In fact, trash is America's leading export. (page 16) How is it possible that we generate so much trash?

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes seeks to answer three questions, from page 19:

1.     What is the nature and cost of all this waste?
2.     How is it possible that we create this much waste without intending to or realizing it?
3.     What next? Is there a way back and what would it do for us or to us?

I've been interested in learning about trash and what happens to it and how I can make less ever since I read Garbage Land (fabulous) by Elizabeth Royte. My coworkers have often been coerced into walking around the neighborhood picking up litter. So when, I heard about Garbology, I knew I would find it fascinating.

I wasn't disappointed. Garbology is interesting, well written and well sourced. It's full of so many interesting facts, that I decided I needed to take notes to remember them. Here are a few of those interesting facts.
  • From page 63-"By the year 2000, Americans consumed 100 billion [plastic shopping bags] a year, at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion - costs passed on to consumers."
  • From page 90-91-"Scripps researchers found that the [lantern] fish responsible for maintaining a significant part of the global food supply were eating potentially toxic plastic at an alarming rate - 24,000 tons a year in the North Pacific alone." Lantern fish are low on the food chain, and all this plastic is mixed in with the zooplankton the fish eat.
  • From page 109-"The United Nations estimates that a minimum of 7 million tons of trash ends up in the ocean each year, 5.6 million tons of which (80 percent) is plastic." All this plastic will never disappear.
  • From page 226: "One full day's worth of America's total oil consumption - about 18 million barrels - is spent hauling bottled water around."
The book isn't intended to be overwhelming or discouraging, and surprisingly, it isn't. It shines a light on the true cost of all that trash we hide away, because it never really disappears. Humes wants the reader to see all this trash not as worthless waste, a noun, but as waste, a verb, and recognize that all these resources we are wasting have value. He tells stories of individuals working to reduce wastefulness and how this has benefited them.

I recognize how wasteful I am, and this book inspires me to look at my habits and make changes, so I don't waste all the wonderful resources available to me.


  1. This book sounds interesting. I am putting it on my list of books to read this year.

  2. I agree with AnnaLisa, this sounds fascinating.