Review of Garbology Luke Steffen

Garbology was an enjoyable and, in some ways, informative read. It asked the right questions, mainly why are we wasting so much rather than how we should best get rid of it all, and earnestly sought the answers. It is an effective call to action (although Bruckner would likely mock the simple solutions to the big problems offered at the end) because it opens with the grim reality of excessive trash that grows in order to sustain our tiger like economy so that the tiger will not buck us off. This, along with the statistics that show all the waste and the personal descripitions of the trash that never truly disintegrates, helps make the reader genuinely concerned about the problem. He concludes with examples of green cities and their innovations alongside individuals who have committed to wasting less. This final part gives hope and allows the reader to have something concrete they can do.

Much of the content of this book was stuff that I already know. The details of New York’s history with trash was something that I found out about at the garbage lecture in Merrick hall last week. My parents are active members of the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, so growing up, reduce, reuse, and recycle were familiar ideas and we rarely used the disposable bags offered at the grocery stores. Instead, we had a bag full of plastic bags that we would not throw out unless they broke, alongside, of course, sturdy cloth bags. I know that contemporary landfills are sealed under layers of soil, clay, plastic, and other “impervious” materials. I know about the problem of plastics in the ocean, where oils and toxins from elsewhere, which are resistant to water, cling to the plastics instead, creating toxic pieces that poison sea life.

However, I did gain new insights as well. For example, while I did know that prosperity increased dramatically with the end of World War II, leading to greater consumption, I did not realize how drastic this paradigm shift, from thrift to spendthrift, was. I also did not realize Lippincott’s role in marketing this into existence! However, I do wonder if this switch was exaggerated. After all, don’t all businesses require consumption of their products and services to function? After all, Harry Selfridge, founder of the London department store Selfridge’s drove a great deal of consumption from the Edwardian Era until the 1940s. It was interesting to see the way that the landfill was shaped in Big Mike’s story as well. The garbology project was intriguing too and I loved finding out new insights into human behavior based on trash. It was interesting that among hazardous waste, poor people threw away more car care products, middle class people more home improvement products, and rich people more landscaping products. The last one makes sense because of the manorial pretentions of wealthy people. It also made sense, sadly, that poor people bought in small packages and more affluent people bought in bulk. I have read many articles about how money saving tricks, like buying in bulk, are prohibitively expensive for poor people, while small packages, more expensive in the long run, are affordable in the moment when they are needed.

 

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