Garbology Summary Graham & Kevin

April 15, 2015


We felt that the book was very interesting because it shows how trash affects our lives so much, and how recent generations have carelessly made a mess of our world. After reading this book, we definitely started to feel guilty about our littering habits and those of the ones around us. We both now recycle, and both of our families do too, but there were many years during our childhood where things were mindlessly thrown away.

Chapter 1: The book begins with introducing Mike Speiser or better known as Big Mike. His job is building sculptured some amazing work. His main tool of choice for his works of art is a BOMAG compactor. While his work of art is the Puente Hills Landfill which is located in Los Angeles. This is the United States largest landfill with over 130 million tons of garbage and counting. With the size of this landfill it could have its own ecosystem in it. Throughout the rest of the chapter the author discusses what our landfills are made up of and how we contribute to them by our consumption of goods. He also discusses how we have damaged our environment and that our consumption levels are so high that we have to sell our garbage to foreign countries to dispose of.

Chapter 2: This chapter really focused on New York City and the amount of trash that is disposed of every year. It jumps back a few decades to the 1960s when Colonel George E. Waring, a civil war veteran decided that something need to be done to keep New York clean so he began a cleaning team known as the “White Wings.” At first they were made fun of but then people realized the importance of what they were doing and if people continued to live in filth that disease pandemic would follow.

Chapter 3: We begin this chapter with revisiting the Puente Hills Landfill, but this time Humes focuses on the interesting things they find in the landfill and how it is treasure to some people. An interesting was made which dealt with how someone’s most valuable or precious stuff gets thrown away after one dies. Also an interesting find was a man named Robert Glen was found dead mixed in with a bunch of trash. This is just goes to show the amount of trash people dispose of daily is disgusting to the point where you can randomly find a dead body in there. Another important point in this chapter was about the amount of money we spend on local landfills and how if we need to learn to wasted less. However some people have different views such as Lippincott idea is that we can actually sell the garbage in turn boosting the economy. Finally a major topic was our plastic problem. Humes explains that we have come to the point where we are basically dependent on it and pretty much everything is made out of it. Then he also notes the harm plastic causes on the economy and how long it takes to decompose.


Chapter 4: Humes talked mostly about the history of landfills. He began discussing about Waste Management Inc, a great investment prospect in the country. In 2004, America decided to create power plants that had the ability to convert landfill gas to electricity.  It then goes on to talk about how this planned power plant has not made it off the ground because locals do not want it. Also there is a large amount of pollution caused by the production of this energy.

Chapter 5: This chapter sparked our interest because it talked about two important topics. The first is waste washing up on shore from off shore garbage dumps. We heared from Mary Crowley and her experiences while working on Project Kaisei. This project was designed to study and clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch. She then goes on to discuss the second big topic which is the amount plastic in the ocean and then how a scientist designed a machine to clean up this plastic chips also known as Chowder Chips.

Chapter 6- This chapter focuses on the history of plastic and the unintentional impact it has had on the world. When we look as see garbage 80 percent is made up of plastic. Nurdles are then introduced which are sand looking pieces of plastic that washes up on sea. Next we learn how these Nurdles actually harm and kill plankton. So what many people ask? Plankton creates nearly half the oxygen consumed on the earth. Finally the chapter reinforces the idea that plastic is literally everywhere.


Chapter 7: This chapter talks about the distance our trash travels and how nearly no one actually thinks about where there trash is going once they place it by the curb. In many cases people are naïve to the fact that they think the garbage man is going to just pick the trash up and take it to a garbage dump that’s not overwhelming and that’s it. However we are informed that in some cases “Trash Truckers” trash has traveled over 200 miles to a dump.

Chapter 8: This chapter talks about the founder of the first garbage project who was Bill Rathje. It gives the background of how it all started. It all began with studying neighborhood trash and then it escalated to incredible findings such as the US Army was throwing away 2.5 million pounds of food waste. It then goes on to state that after these findings they knew that something had to be done. Finally the end of the chapter Rathje wrote an article “Decadence Ways” that was referenced in which he states that if we do not change our ways we will slip into a declining economy.

Chapter 9: This chapter focused on the art in the garbage and how many people have become famous for garbage art. It was interesting to see in this chapter how there are actual art programs based strictly around modeling of garbage. Also how you must pay you access these classes. Humes also made a point in this chapter to point out that it is not just reducing the amount of trash being disposed or to waste less but that it is a mentality that people must begin to adapt to that we do not need the newest version of the Iphone or the newest TV.

Chapter 10-12: The last few chapters I thought tied in very well with one another. They talked about Andy Keller and how  a local dump changed his life completely. It then goes to discuss how Portland Oregon is one of the greenest cities and how basically everyone needs to learn to live like they do. Then in the final chapter it discusses how Bea who realized their bad habits and was able to change and make great improvements for herself and also for the environment.


April 15, 2015

I liked how the book started off with an introduction of how our garbage can kill us and over take us and even bury us alive. The story was sad but true which made it all that more impactful. I think this initial chapter gave helpful statistics and room for improvement by educating. The statistic that the average American “… throws away 7.1 pounds… of trash per day” is discussing. However, it made an impact on me to think about how much space we physically take up verses the amount of space our trash left behind consumes. I don’t want the relics of my generation to be the things we didn’t care for.. our trash. To me a relic should be something of your culture and it saddens me to think our culture is “garbage”. This book stared off fast jumping right into the real and depressing honest topics.

Not only are our waste products hurting the environment but our want for products is a driving forces in direct distraction of the environment. PAPER- the need and want for it is a chronic problem in China. I think about the products from China but I haven’t thought about all the paper required for packaging. Chung Nam’s company, Nine Dragons Paper, seems to be obvious. I guess we only see the gain in our waste when it can provide us with something we want. I.e a can is a can until you realize it is ten cents and need money. At the end of the first chapter their was a “waste receipt” that helped me mentally organize the problems.

The last statistic on the sheet is about food waste: 28 billion pounds of food is thrown away each year. This is approximately 1/4 of America’s food supply. This was a shockingly disgusting statistic. I know I myself am guilty of wasting but am making a conscious effort to cut down in hopes to cut down on the grand statistic. With the constant discussion that in the near future we will need to make more food I can quite understand why we aren’t trying to take more preventative waste measurements. If we could find a way to cut down on the food being wasted we might not be required to make as much. Are those statistics based on food people actually eat or on food people buy? This interested me and I will continue to look into this topic.

Then later in the book the discussion about the plastic in the ocean came to light. This topic is very disturbing and  ever growing… Literally. The idea that the plastic just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces is alarming. They discussed how they were able to drag the net through “seemingly clean water” and still collected plastic particles. It was also interesting to read why the trash piles in the ocean are where they are. They called it the trash that escapes.

Overall i really liked the book due to its constant facts and its user friendly tone. You didn’t have to be a scientist to read this book and I think that is one of the most important aspects of change. People without science backgrounds need to be able to read this information and understand their individual impact on the world and each other.


News Blurb: Harvard’s Hemlock

April 15, 2015

Are Harvard’s Dying Hemlocks a Warning for Trees Everywhere?

Harvard’s forest have seen a recent spike in deaths of hemlock recently due to the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. The insect is about the size of a sesame seed and can be moved by wind and bird’s feathers and feet. Interestingly enough, while rainforests are still being deforested, the rate of forest growth in northern latitudes has brought the Earth’s total mass of trees to a rate of increase. But this doesn’t mean that things like water stress and pest infestation or disease aren’t seriously damaging forests worldwide. Scientists hope that these forests will be able to bounce back from damages, as tree diversity and forest size and age are important factors in ecosystem function. In Harvard’s forest, the hemlocks are important because their canopy determines when and how quickly snow melts, which further influences spring flooding. The deaths of hemlock will likely dramatically impact the forest species composition as the forest begins to regrow.

Article written by Hillary Rosner, National Geographic, April 2, 2015

Garbology Reflections

April 15, 2015

Humes’ Garbology explored the American experience with trash. Aside from the jarring statistics reflecting our garbage production, Humes brought up important issues each of us likely contributes to everyday. Appropriately, he calls trash production an American addiction (and one we prefer to hide from ourselves).

The book traces the history of trash including some notable examples. It seems that although practices have changed over the years, people’s reactions to waste management has not much. In 1870/1880s New York, waste was very poorly managed. There were times when waste was dropped in the river or ocean, dead horses pulling buggies were left where they fell, there was manure everywhere, and pigs ran about eating waste in the streets. These conditions led to Colonel Waring’s overhaul of the waste management system, which was said to have “saved more lives in the crowded tenements than a squad of doctors.” Despite appreciation of his work, people still didn’t want to do all of the waste sorting his plan called for. Today, more than 100 years later, we still face that sort of response when encouraged to do separate recyclables.

Big cities in California were another area of focus in the novel. One part that was interesting to me was that of governmental and company efforts to begin new waste management facilities. As waste-to-energy plans were being made in California, people feared the release of dioxin to the surrounding areas. Just this week I went to hear Susan’s Schnall’s lecture, “Agent-Orange, GMOs, and Other Legacies of U.S. Intervention in Vietnam,” in which she discussed dioxin as a component of Agent Orange. The effects of dioxin used in that way are absolutely horrendous, so I can imagine I’d be seriously concerned if someone told me that a landfill pumping that stuff out would be anywhere near me.. But people also refuse to allow landfills near their homes because of the stench, the view, and the trash that can be carried off into their yards. So while I can say I probably wouldn’t live right next to a landfill if I were given the choice, I think this mentality is reflective of people’s unwillingness to admit to creating as much trash as we do. I don’t think that every person who refuses to live by a waste management facility is actively trying to change their habits to reduce their personal wastefulness.

In a Canadian landfill gull populations disturbing the waste were such a problem that a program was created to use falconry as a gull deterrent

In a Canadian landfill gull populations disturbing the waste were such a problem that a program was created to use falconry as a gull deterrent

I really enjoyed the information about the garbology (garbage/archaeology) study. I can make predictions about what my trash says about me.. although I’m not sure I’d like what it says very much. I read Colin Beaven’s No Impact Man and have seen the documentary by the same name before my first semester at OWU, and was profoundly impacted (lol) by Beaven’s efforts. I spent a substantial amount of time considering how I might change my life to reduce my own waste. It’s interesting now (2 ½ years later) to look back at the changes I made in my initial interest to see what changes have really stuck. As Humes mentions, saying “no” is important to reducing waste, and I’m a lot better at that now – especially when it comes to plastic bags. Most notably, I still use a straight razor instead of disposable to shave and I usually use a ceramic mug to hold coffee when I go to the bakery or Starbucks. I’ve gotten much more interested in buying used and refurbished things- thrifting is like a game I can win anytime I want to purchase anything. But, there are many more efforts I considered that have been much less successful, and I think those are interesting. I still use commercial shampoo, deodorant, and paper napkins, despite attempts to use alternatives. I’m not sure what it is about those habits that’s so hard to break, but I think it’s worth thinking about why we aren’t reducing our waste in some ways even when we really want to. I’m always happy to read things like Garbology that try to guide our thinking on those topics.

Environmental Article:

April 15, 2015

This week I thought it was more important to illustrate an overarching issues than a specific topic. I think saying “the world is over populated” or our “consumerism” is out of control is one thing but being able to visually see how we as humans have changed the landscape and continue to do some has a greater impact. This photo article shows a wide range of human impact and quotes authors like Edward Abby to help strengthen their point. To me the image of the hills of Mexico covered in human housing was one of the most impactful images of the article. It is hard to think of us as anything but a plague when seeing an image such as that. The land is practically unrecognizable. I also thought the surfing picture was impactful because I image all of us have seen the ideal photo of the surfer with the sun setting in the background as the wave curls around him or her. The photo the article presents is anything but ideal however is realistic especially with the continual pollution of our oceans.


Trash wave: Indonesia


Waves of humanity: Mexico City

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash (Humes)

April 15, 2015

 I’ve been interested in trash every since I took part in a house project a Treehouse member put on last year. The idea was to carry around a bag with you for a week and to see all of the trash you accumulated. I tried not to buy anything disposable that week and was amazed that there were some things I couldn’t avoid. It feels like everything I purchased had some form go packaging. It mad eke understand why some people have called us “the plastic generation” because our dependency on petroleum-made products is so great.
Last semester while working on a project, I talked with a man from SWACO (the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio) which runs the landfills for central Ohio.  I was surprised to learn that the landfills they have there are quickly filling up, at this pace SWACO only has twenty years of use left to it. (Sidenote: if anyone would like to tour it, they give free tours to groups of ten or more). It feels as though the amount of trash we have is exponentially increasing.

Anyways, I really enjoyed this book. I like that it was written in a creative and somewhat humorous way. It was informative and helped me to delve into an issue I really care about.

My favorite section would have to be in Part 3, chapter 9: Pick of the Litter. There Humes focused on the recycled art community in San Francisco, specifically, the AIR (Artist-in-Residence) program at the San Francisco dump.  Described as the “brainchild” of the 1970s activist Jo Hansen, it is now a competitive program to get into where only two people are residents for four four months (so six people yearly).

Here’s some of the artwork that has come from the dump, including an entirely styrofoam hummer (upper left) by Andrew Junge that has toured the nation.

Here’s one of the pieces the artist Niki Uleha worked on while she was in the AIR program in early 2011.  She was the one Humes follows while writing this book. In her artist statement she said, “I make objects so that they can exist outside my brain. I make puppets so that they can be animated. I do that so that people can see this and form memories.”


I think an taking an artist’s approach to trash is one of the real ways we can reduce our waste impact. It’s worked for San Francisco and several “copycat cities” so why not make sure every capital in the U.S. has a similar program? Think of all of the waste it would divert.

One of my favorite excerpts was when Humes wrote, “[Niki was] scanning with a practiced eye the treasures untreasured by luck or death or poverty or time or boredom or age. All of these objects had stories to tell, or so she imagined..” (170).

Overall, I enjoyed this book and the alternatives Humes explored.

Project Update: Ban the Bottle

April 15, 2015

Tonight is the night!!

Thanks to everyone in advance for helping me string bottles up. If anyone is free tomorrow (Thursday) night to help me take them down that would be greatly appreciated.

It is confirmed that Wooster banned plastic water bottles. They may be looking to ban more.

Here’s an opinion article from their paper: