Garbology by Edward Humes

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Garbology by Edward Humes is an interesting book on our obsession with garbage.  According to the book, in America, and other developed nations, every person has a 102 ton legacy of trash that they leave behind. When you multiply that by the population of just America by that, the numbers are staggering. This garbage is invisible to us because every week we take it to the curb to be taken somewhere else. That somewhere else can be many things: a dump, a landfill, an incinerator, the ocean, the list goes on, and each solution has it’s pros and cons. The author’s view seems to be that our search for a solution isn’t enough.

I find the authors view interesting, because he views landfills and such as an enabler to our addiction to trash. In our consumer economy everything we buy adds up to more trash. We throw away the plastic bags we carried the goods home in, we threw away the packaging that the goods were sealed in, and at some point we throw away the good itself. Whether those goods are the immortal plastics, electronics, or food, each has some sort of harm to the environment, especially in the numbers we throw away. Even recycling is something the author seems iffy about. As with the story about Zhang Yin, who made billions selling scrap paper products in America to Chinese manufacturers who make it into more packaging that just gets thrown away again. The author puts emphasis on how the throwing away is the problem.

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The author poses the idea that it’s one thing to recycle and bring your own bags to the grocery store, but a whole other thing to change your whole life style to be able to fit all of your trash in a mason jar or a paper grocery bag. One can find new uses for their trash, whether it be for art, compost, donation, or recycling the raw materials. One thing that the book points out is particularly bad is electronic waste. In the modern era we are constantly throwing away perfectly good electronics when they become obsolete. This is easily solved by giving your electronics to someone who needs them, donating them to charities, such as Goodwill, or recycling them. I’m from Cincinnati, and at the Cincinnati Zoo they have bins all over the zoo for recycling your cell phone to save the gorillas. This is meant to prevent the mining for raw materials in gorilla habitat, but it also reduces e-waste.

I found the section on landfills to be very interesting, partly because it is another example of someone’s view of nature. Because while the author tries his best to describe the landfill as the most vile place on Earth, he continuously makes asides throughout the chapter on how the landfill is ironically a nature preserve. The author does not view the area as natural, but it is. Even if it isn’t exactly naturally produced, nature does have many habitats where methane emissions come from the ground. Sure, it isn’t ideal, but landfills provide a habitat for many species that people with avoid for many years to come.

'But it was never enough.  He returned, week after week, looking for more.'

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