Reading for Garbology by Edward Humes

November 18, 2015

The book is divided into three sections. In the first part of Garbology, we are introduced to “Big Mike” aka Mike Speiser, whose crowning achievement is the pinnacles he creates full of trash, more than 130 million tons of trash in the Puente Hills landfills; used as the last resting place for Los Angeles trash (20). The part about the seagulls becoming a problem for their ability to pick up trash and then dump it in someone else’s manicured lawn. Therefore, the trash facility workers have to set up fishing lines to stop the gulls from landing on the trash heaps (34). New York and Col. George E. Waring’s method of lessening the amount of divided garbage into ash, garbage, and rubbish (47). Trash Olympics who would have thought of that, I have never heard of the trash collectors having a set of events they compete in sponsored by the Solid Waste Association; and who better to represent Puente Hills than “Big Mike” himself (60).

In part two named Trash Detectives, Humes examines the concept of “smart trash” developed by MIT inspired by the ideas of Sterling. They are considered the first trash trackers. They have shown the meandering process of trash and where it travels and some have not even made it to their intended recycling plant. “The creators of smart trash wanted to expose how waste gets where it’s going- the meandering, mysterious and, it turns out, occasionally disturbing path it takes after it is thrown away” (147). The fact that there are only thirteen facilities that are equipped and able to recycle cathode-ray tubes, found in old television set and considered very toxic, are all located throughout China (153). Not only are our production being outsourced but also the disposal of our trash, there is no way that this should be considered a sustainable method of recycling.

In the last section of the book titled, The Way Back, the author presented the problem and abundance of plastic and the small confetti-like particles. This section discussed how harmful plastic is to the environment to the fish, wildlife and humans too. The plastic in the oceans attract many toxins and then the fish and we consume them in fish and other seafood. Also due to marine debris pollution, hundreds of thousands of seabirds, according to Keller, have died (239). I really liked the conceptual thinking presented in this quote. “Bags are kind of like the gateway drug to all the plastics, and if we can kick that habit, all the rest of our single-use habits will start to fall like dominoes” (244).

In conclusion, Humes presents multiple examples of the problems with trash and its effects or indirect effects on wildlife, humans, and the rest of the planet. From plastic bags, to smart trash, and the trash Olympics, this book explored it all. The diagrams and images he added were easy to follow and interpret. The author’s intent was to show our addiction to trash is way more problematic than we have been taught to believe, this also shows that the efforts we have made have not been able to put a “dent” in the problem. Although, this allows us to see that the professionals do not even know the next step towards a sustainable solution; but as Humes points out this acts as an invitation, “an opportunity to take a step back and consider a new normal” (288). Overall, I loved this book! It was not a struggle to finish and it is in my top three now that we have read all the books for the semester.


The infamous nurdles, small broken down particulates of plastic, found along the beach and often mistaken for broken seashells.


A disturbing image of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Possible Cause for Supervolcano Eruptions

November 17, 2015

Yellowstone Supervolcano Caldera

While the topic itself might not seem directly environmental like most of the news posts, this topic is actually quite relevant.  According to this article, studies show that magma buoyancy has little to no influence on generating a supereruption.  Instead, they find that it it likely the size of the magma chamber that has a more significant impact.  If a chamber were to grow to the point of creating faults in the roof above it, the magma chamber could use those faults as eruption points, and it then becomes a domino effect where the area becomes “unzipped”.  This is quite relevant due to the sudden appearance of a rift 150 miles to the east of Yellowstone just 2 weeks ago.  From this other article, I gathered that the shallower magma chamber underneath Yellowstone is estimated to be 19 miles wide from northwest to southeast and 55 miles southwest to northeast, while the more recently discovered deeper reservoir is 30 miles northwest to southeast and 44 miles southwest to northeast.  Though the distance shows the area of the rift not being an immediate warning sign of an eruption, it does show that something in the area is active.  Let’s just hope that whatever it is, it leaves the Yellowstone magma chamber/reservoir alone.

Reusable Food Container Update

November 17, 2015

I have begun compiling all of the results into a more compact listing.  Once I have completed that, I will save the worksheet and send it to Gene of Chartwells to look over.

Racing Extinction

November 17, 2015

I stumbled upon this article from Science News online, about an upcoming documentary that will air on the Discovery Channel December 2nd. The film, Racing Extinction follows the crew of people to certain areas and reveals the endangered species that are affected in those locations. The film also looks at the indirect impact on wildlife and the little things people can do to help the environment from eating less meat, to changing your light bulbs to energy efficient bulbs LED’s. Although the film is thought to carry gloominess, there is also a message of hope that we can lessen our harmful human impact.

Racing Extinction Trailer

Spreading the message of hope, on the side of buildings in NYC.

Spreading the message of hope, on the side of buildings in NYC.

Review of Garbology Luke Steffen

November 17, 2015

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.


Turn our Excessive waste into Fuel!

November 16, 2015

This is part of an article from Popular Science Magazine. It’s not exactly “news” anymore because the article is from May, but the products are still new. Michael Murray, CEO of Cynar, a start-up tech company, has created a machine that turns plastic, which is made from petroleum, back into usable fuel. When burned, this fuel still creates CO2, but 20% less than gasoline. Also, anyone who has read Garbology can agree that it is better to put all this plastic junk to use rather than bury it in our burgeoning landfills! Here is the article.


EU paying loads to fight olive tree killer

November 16, 2015


Described as “one of the most dangerous plant pathogens worldwide,” Xylella fastidiosa is attacking olive trees. Besides olive trees being super cool, the EU needs them because the EU is the largest global consumer and producer of olive oil. There was a workshop in Brussels to brainstorm how to get rid of the pathogen, and that’s when the EU announced that they would spend 7 million euros ($7.5 million) to fund research.