Garbology :Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
© 2012 Edward Humes
Readers who are passionate about garbage — a description which includes sanitation workers, victims of SimCity, and ecologists, I assume — will find no shortage of books on the subject. Susan Strasser has a history of waste, for instance, and Gone Tomorrow and Garbage Land both follow refuse through the waste stream. Garbology has a little history, a little waste-stream-kayaking, and a little of other trashy topics: landfill archaeology and oceanic stewardship, for instance. You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but it is less an island of debris and more a vast expanse of water filled with tiny bits of plastic, a chowder of sorts which is an enormous challenge both to clean and to understand the impact of. How does that much plastic particulate affect the human food chain? Much of the trash comes from the plastic that covers every aspect of our everyday lives: the plastic wrapping around anything we buy from the grocery store, the plastic inside boxes of goods, etc. Accordingly the rise of plastic merits its own chapter, as does the story of one woman who was driven by economy to reduce as much waste as she could. Eventual author of The Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson’s interview offers many ideas for replacing expensive consumer products with homemade alternatives, like three-ingredient cleaning supplies that can handle pretty much anything. There are other stirring tales of ordinary citizens being inspired to take action, like one man who launched a campaign to end ubiquitous one-time use of plastic bags. For the reader with a vague interest in waste and environmental stewardship, Garbology affords a brief look at many different aspects of the question, though more detailed works are out there. They include the ones I mentioned in the beginning, as well as works like Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. Although there’s not an enormous amount of information on any one particular topic, I liked the scientific aspects and the zero waste author’s approach. Humes’ fundamental conviction — that consuming natural resources to produce goods and then immediately shoving them underground, consuming more resources to lock them away, is staggeringly wasteful and sloppy — bears repeating.
Garbage Land: on the Secret Trail of Trash, Elizabeth Royte
Waste and Want: A Social History of Garbage, Susan Strasser
Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of NYC, Robin Nagle
Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, Helen Rogers
Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, Susan Freinkel
You know what’s strange? All of these books about garbage are by women. It doesn’t strike me as topic that would necessarily have a strong sex bias, but at least now Humes has broken the monopoly.