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Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  987 Ratings  ·  217 Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist takes readers on a surprising tour of America’s biggest export, our most prodigious product, and our greatest legacy: our trash.

The average American produces 102 tons of garbage across a lifetime and $50 billion in squandered riches are rolled to the curb each year. But our bins are just the starting point for a strange, impressive, mys
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 2012 by Avery
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Bossypants by Tina FeyThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David MitchellOpen by Andre AgassiThe Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha MukherjeeLast Call by Daniel Okrent
From Fresh Air
25th out of 103 books — 68 voters
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Best Environmental Books
119th out of 581 books — 776 voters

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Community Reviews

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May 22, 2012 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Incisive journalist's overview of the problems of overconsumption and waste. Terrifying description of the Plastic Garbage Island of the Pacific and offers an interesting and firm refutation of official consumption figures. 102 tons per person per lifetime - rather scary stuff.

Now some of the worst offenders in the US are going away - newspapers and phone books, which consist of the majority of paper waste, are rapidly declining in circulation - there has been a decline in that regard. The incr
Cindy Brown Ash
Apr 30, 2012 Cindy Brown Ash rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2012
I encountered this book by chance when part of the NPR interview of Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash caught my attention.

In the interview, Humes was talking about Bakelite, an early plastic that was used for billiard balls, piano keys, and telephones -- things that were meant to be durable, and have long, even heirloom-length, lives. He was calm and reasoned, not casting blame but describing a shift in the way materials are used as being problematic. It was imp
May 09, 2012 Joanna rated it it was amazing
Oh my goodness! I had no idea how readable a book about GARBAGE could be! And so gripping! I now find it my new mission to knit/crochet grocery bags for everyone I know out of yarn I already have (thereby reducing my personal footprint). Seriously, though, this book has opened my eyes to the whole idea of trash and recycling, energy and our future. Heard about Garbology on Fresh Air, can't thank NPR enough (for this and so much more). I'll continue to listen for insightful reading suggestions. G ...more
May 10, 2012 Trish rated it it was amazing
Great book.I like the way he presents the information in a non preachy way. He discusses both the problems (in a historical context) and some possible solutions. The book inspired me to do a simple thing - bring a bowl, knife, fork, spoon, and cloth napkin to work to use to purchase and eat salad, my most common meal at work. Since the cafe has no way to weigh it, I am paying a little more and when I think of the stack of plastic containers that is not going in the trash, it is worth it. Plus, o ...more
Jun 02, 2012 Laura rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who cares at all about the environment
I am usually not much of a nonfiction reader, but I could not put this book down! It's so well written it's a page turner, and it also avoided the pitfall of so many "describe the problem" books that leave you agreeing but with nothing concrete or specific to do. Not here - there's 10 clear steps from an almost zero-waste family on page 255 and the author's top 5 beginning on page 260. (In case you're curious, don't buy bottled water and do use cloth napkins and reusable shopping bags). It conta ...more
Son Dang
Jun 05, 2012 Son Dang rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 28, 2012 Jen rated it it was amazing
Required reading for anyone who makes trash (so ... everyone). A very readable study of our garbage addiction: why we make it, where it goes, and what alternatives there might be. Full of frightening facts and inspiring suggestions, I don't think anyone could read this book and not make some changes. (I now haul home all our work food scraps for my personal compost.) Humes isn't preachy or overly moralistic: he presents the facts, and you can take care of the judgments yourself. This is a wake-u ...more
Chris Demer
Jun 25, 2012 Chris Demer rated it really liked it
This book is fascinating, and somewhat shocking. The volumes of refuse produced by our consumer society is extraordinary. The average American produces 7 pounds of trash per day - or 102 tons in a lifetime!
In addition to a history of the "garbage problem" and ways it has been addressed(or not) throughout history, the author describes in some detail where our "garbage" goes now. While we can feel complacent in our belief that a vast amount of our trash is now recycled, the actual amount is not gr
Jul 02, 2012 Nina rated it it was amazing
7/2/12-I am almost finished with this book. I selected it after hearing a discussion on it on NPR. I also am highly interested in trying to be a more responsible inhabitant of the Earth. It started off slow for me, but then really picked up. I was fascinated by things I wasn't familiar with such as nurdles (tiny pieces of plastic that float in the ocean and land on the beaches). A great read for anyone who wants to be more conscientious of what we are placing out into our world.
Jul 02, 2012 Jane rated it it was amazing
"Garbology" is an eye-opening read. It's also sobering, and I defy any one to read this book without afterwards finding oneself thinking of ways in which to alter one's lifestyle--whether subtly or dramatically--in an effort to reduce one's own waste impact. Humes presents us with unmistakable truths about everyday items, such as the (still) ubiquitous plastic grocery bags. I found the statistics he puts forward about the amount of plastic particles floating (and sinking) in our earth's oceans t ...more
Jul 16, 2012 Jennie rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fascinating discussion of America's garbage problem. We are just a tiny percentage of the world's population, yet we discard 25% of the world's trash. I already knew about a lot of the issues Humes covers here: the plastic gathering in the ocean gyres; the political fight over banning plastic bags; statistics about trash; opportuinties (or lack thereof) for recycling, etc. What I didn't know was the history of trash and recycling collection in the US; information on a artist-in-reside ...more
Aug 22, 2012 Catherine rated it it was amazing
It’s readable, interesting, and important. Garbology describes the alarming rate at which our landfills are growing, how landfill contents don’t break down, but do create lethal gases. More disturbing is the amount of plastic in the ocean. But the book doesn’t end in a downer: the author tells of cities with successful waste programs and individuals who live modern, no-waste lives. Everyone should take in this book.
Andrew Mutch
Aug 30, 2012 Andrew Mutch rated it it was amazing
You wouldn't think a book about trash and garbage would make for an interesting read. But "Garbology" takes the topic of trash and turns it into a thought-provoking read. The author breaks it down into 12 easy to read chapters each exploring a different aspect of waste and garbage in our culture. You'll learn how the transformation of the United States into a nation of consumers has turned us into a wasteful nation that generates mountains of trash. The author follows a winding path back and for ...more
Oct 02, 2012 Mindy rated it it was amazing
So far, this book is incredibly eye opening. Who would have thought the United States's number one export to China is garbage??? (Which they recycle). And that we toss out so much without a thought as to where it goes to the tune of 102 tons per person over our lifetime.

This obviously reads slower than a novel because of all the science and facts involved. However, it is so interesting. Definitely eye opening! It leaves you thinking for weeks about what you do with your garbage. Not many books
Linda Friedrich
Sep 11, 2012 Linda Friedrich rated it it was amazing
Read this after listening to author interviewed on NPR. Should be on everyone's reading list. Definitely will impact my actions and future choices. Written in a style that is entertaining and easily understood.
Sep 21, 2012 Kitty rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
102 tons of garbage is what the average American produces in his/her lifetime. It's not a subject most of us like to spend much time thinking about but it's the natural result of our consumer driven lifestyle. This book is well written and will leave you thinking about ways to chip away at your own 102 ton legacy.
Sep 26, 2012 Vy rated it it was amazing
In describing Puente Hills, America's largest active landfill, Humes says it's "impressive. It's also compelling, revelatory and horrifying all at the same time." Well, that pretty much sums up this book too!

Hume explores what and how much we throw away (102 tons in the lifetime of an average American!) and then what happens to it. Our waste mismanagement system is explained against a historical and political context. This is not just about recycling, composting, and converting garbage to fuel.
Oct 16, 2012 James rated it it was amazing
All the insight you expect from a economic/social analysis of our waste-driven economy and waste-centric western lifestyle delivered in an compelling narrative. It is a great read and fascinating...even if most of it is a huge bummer.
Jan 31, 2013 Chad rated it it was amazing
I have this habit of thumbing through the new books in my campus library while waiting for lunch to heat up in the microwave located there. I came across this book like this, read a couple lines, and checked it out. I read the introduction while eating lunch and was immediately fascinated. Having not given much thought to how much trash I personally make and where it goes (I mistakenly thought it just decomposes in the landfill), Garbology opened my eyes to how wasteful our society is.

I could g
Nov 01, 2012 Beth rated it really liked it
I found some chapters more fascinating than others. The story about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch would make an excellent children's picture book. The section on landfills was also interesting. I do love my two Chicobags, and was surprised they had been targeted in legal battles by Big Plastic. I didn't even know there was a Big Plastic Industry in America. The information about the Waste-to-Energy plants was great!

But I read the last chapter on the Johnson family's life without any plastic w
Nate Hendrix
Nov 13, 2012 Nate Hendrix rated it really liked it
This is an amazing study of what we throw away. It has made me think much more about what I use and throw away. I will be trying to make some small changes is what we purchase. Not gonna change the world, just some small changes.
Rebecca Scaglione
Dec 12, 2012 Rebecca Scaglione rated it it was amazing
Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes is a book that has changed my life. Honestly. I ran across this book at the library and picked it up since it looked interesting.

I have always been into recycling, but this book opened by eyes to the waste that surrounds us, and how recycling is only a teeeeeeeensy piece of a solution.

Here are some of the things I learned from Pulitzer Prize Winner Edward Humes:

One out of every 6 large trucks in America is a garbage truck
America has 5%
Wow, when I logged in to Goodreads to post my review after reading this book I was shocked to see all the 5 and 4 star ratings. When I read the introduction, I was really fascinated. But, in the end I didn't care for this book at all. Did it have some interesting facts? yes. Did it have some interesting anecdotes? sure. But, overall, it was a 20 page manuscript turned into a 300 page book. For me it just dragged on and on and on. There are just so many ways you can say the same thing over and ov ...more
Jan 28, 2013 Jim rated it really liked it
“Garbology” will teach you more about trash, waste, and garbage in America than you ever thought there was to know about this subject. For example, waste is big business. Landfills were originally a temporary solution that became a permanent practice. The US is one of the most wasteful nations on the planet. Our current rate of waste production cannot be sustained for much longer. Recycling isn’t nearly as helpful as most people think it is. And all of this is evidence of American selfishness, i ...more
Karen Douglass
Mar 11, 2013 Karen Douglass rated it it was amazing
A life changing read: I am on a mission to convert to plastic free living. It's not going to be easy, but Humes has convinced me that I don't need to cause so much trash and I'll start by eliminating my use of plastics. Ironically, I stopped at a local "green" grocery store and could find very little to buy. I did find toilet paper wrapped in paper and yogurt in a glass jar (plastic lid, but reuseable) and milk in cartons, but with that plastic pour spout. Sorry, I meant to rave about the book, ...more
Sep 10, 2013 Emily rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to Emily by: Hampshire College
Don't read this book. Here's all you need to know:
We make a lot of trash. Plastic is the main cause of it. Most people don't know that we make this much trash because we hide the problem. Help clean up trash. Recycling isn't very efficient, but it's still better to recycle than to throw away recyclables. There is a family who can live with one mason jar of trash per year, but she's mostly just outsourcing her trash so she doesn't really even count. Bring reusable bags everywhere you shop. There'
Sep 30, 2013 Clif rated it it was amazing
Documentary, educational and full of human interest stories, Garbology makes going through the trash very worthwhile. Edward Humes writing style is so flowing and easy to follow that I am going to check out his other books - Monkey Girl? What could that be about?

Americans have a problem with waste and it's perfectly understandable. Why shouldn't things be thrown away without thought when the price paid directly in dollars by the average citizen is insignificant, the stuff disappears like magic a
Jan 21, 2014 Misty rated it it was ok
Shelves: fun-non-fiction
This book wasn't what I expected. I found it very boring. With a title that includes 'Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash' I expected something a bit more entertaining. This book is really just about landfills and plastic bags. I did like the small section about a group of students that studied peoples' lives by sleuthing through their trash. Also, there were a few pages about a family that has reduced their annual trash to an amount that fits in a mason jar. But, mostly this book dragged on and on ...more
Oct 12, 2014 Rob rated it it was ok
This may be a waste of your time, no pun intended. The men’s book club I belong to – a group of retired doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers and similar ilk – like to mix it up between fiction and nonfiction each time we meet. Although “Garbology” is interesting, I would have been happy with the Cliff’s Notes. The book certainly has some interesting facts, and some interesting anecdotes, but overall it's a 20-page essay turned into a 300-page tedious manuscript. And the author’s liberal slant – yes, w ...more
Joan Concilio
Aug 30, 2016 Joan Concilio rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction-read
Read this at the recommendation of Chris, who also lent it to me. We have long been interested in reuse and conscious spending, but this blew my mind about how far I can still go in my quest to generate less waste and consume less overall. This should be required reading for any teen or adult.
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Afterwords Books: Garbology: Thoughts and Reviews 20 25 Feb 22, 2014 05:44PM  
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  • Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators Are Revolutionizing How America Eats
  • Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
  • The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea
  • The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability--Designing for Abundance
  • The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death
  • The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Fresh Water in the Twenty-First Century
  • Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist
  • The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World
  • Man of War: My Adventures in the World of Historical Reenactment
  • Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives
  • Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash
  • Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis
  • Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage
Edward Humes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of nine books of nonfiction, most recently, Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for Americas Soul and Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream. His next book, "Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet," will be out next year."
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“Average household credit card debt topped the landmark of $10,000 in 2006, a hundredfold increase over the average consumer debt in the 1960s. One consequence: Much of the material buried in landfills in recent years was bought with those same credit cards, leading to the quintessentially American practice of consumers continuing to pay, sometimes for years, for purchases after they become trash.” 3 likes
“There are, in short, a multitude of ways for trash to escape and plastic to go missing. But there is only one ultimate end point for this wild trash: the greatest future, the biggest surface, the deepest chasm, the broadest desert and the largest burial ground on the planet. It's the ocean.” 2 likes
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