nonfiction

Book Review: Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes

I realize I read about a lot of niche subjects, but garbage might just be the nichiest (what? It’s a word if I want it to be a word). Reading about the trash we create, the mess we’ve made of the world, and the people devoting their lives to cleaning it all up serves as a reminder to me of the work I need to be doing in order to make things better. If you’re beginning to realize that ‘there’s no such thing as away,’ that things don’t just disappear when you toss them in the trash, that everything you buy has consequences for the planet, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes (Avery, 2012) might need to go from your TBR to your brain.

What happens when we throw things away? What exactly goes on in a landfill? (Sometimes it’s not much. People have unearthed 50-year-old hot dogs and heads of lettuce, looking pretty much fresh.) What exactly is all of this doing to the planet, and how much longer can this continue? Edward Humes has thrown the switch on the floodlights that illuminate the mess we’ve made, the dangerous situations we’ve created, and the people working to both take care of them and to make them better.

Because there are better ways, and Mr. Humes shows not only people who have chosen careers dedicated to improving how we deal with trash, but showcases people who have restructured their lives so that they create much, much less of it. While the book occasionally wanders into the technical, Garbology is a wake-up call and an inspirational manifesto for all.

This was a bit of a slow read for me, simply because I was trying to take it all in. We’ve really made a mess of things, when the ocean can be described as ‘plastic chowder’ by scientists who study this sort of thing. It’s all super depressing, but…it could be better. We could do better, and this book points that out over and over again. Garbology isn’t Pollyanna-ish in nature, but knowledge really is power, and it provides the reader with the important knowledge we need about the what, how, and why of our garbage, and how we can clean things up.

There’s a lot to think about here, and I guarantee that, if you read this, you’ll be thinking about and looking at your trash differently. I refused a plastic bag this week after finishing this book, and I’m going to try to keep that habit up (I got distracted in another line and didn’t think about saying I didn’t need bags until it was too late). I’m thinking more about how I can reuse other parts of my trash (recycling is good, but it really should be more of a last resort; there’s a reason why reduce and reuse come first!), and I’ve located some TerraCycle drop-off locations in my area so I can collect the harder-to-recycle items, like toothpaste tubes, for them.

Garbology might change you – and that’s a good thing. Our planet desperately needs that.

Visit Edward Humes’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

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