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Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  425 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Eat a take-out meal, buy a pair of shoes, or read a newspaper, and you’re soon faced with a bewildering amount of garbage. The United States is the planet’s number-one producer of trash. Each American throws out 4.5 pounds daily. But garbage is also a global problem; the Pacific Ocean is today six times more abundant with plastic waste than zooplankton. How did we end up w ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by The New Press (first published 2005)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  425 ratings  ·  63 reviews

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Aug 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: for-teaching, garbage
What happened to cooperative kitchens?
When was fixing things deemed unpatriotic?
Why can't we return our empties?
How did the plastics industry appropriate the last word in a grassroots chant at the first Earth Day and thus convince all of us that the endless production of packaging is normal because it can be recycled (but it's not)?
Why was salvaging in the dump banned?
Who drove the mob out of the garbage business?
How much of our purchase price is packaging?
Why are most landfills only guaranteed
Jun 29, 2021 rated it it was ok
Although I didn't overly enjoy reading this book, it does discuss some interesting zero waste and green initiatives, highlighting the problems with cooperate green washing. However, these topics are only discussed breifly in the last chapter or so, and the rest or the book is dedicated to the history of rubbish. I perhaps misinterpreted the title, but by the middle of the book I would have expected the discussion to move on from waste disposal of the 1930s. I also found the structure of the book ...more
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: you! and you! and you!!!
This book was pretty informative on a topic I didn't know much about.

For me, the beginning few chapters were interesting but not particularly revelatory. However later on in the book--the chapters "Spaceship Earth," "Recycling," and "The Corporatization of Garbage"--were really engrossing for me. I have notes from almost every page. Basically there is a conspiracy (like, these people actually do openly contrive and scheme and lobby and finagle) to generate trash and it's pretty apalling.

Dec 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is an ambitious book about an important and pressing issue: the overwhelming problem of how to deal with our municipal garbage (and, perhaps more importantly, the consumer issues that lead us to having so many discards in the first place). But I have to think that the people who gave the book 4 stars and up are doing so because they believe in the cause and not because the story-telling is so well executed.

I struggled with the description of the modern landfill in the first chapter in part
Kevin Quirolo
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Environmental activists and bottled-water drinkers alike.
Recommended to Kevin by: Berkeley Public Library
This well documented book addresses the absurdly tragic reality of our waste disposal system. The first half is dedicated to the history of garbage in the United States, which would only be interesting to someone interested histories of the mundane. The second half discusses more recent history leading into current practices, which are gripping in their grotesque destructiveness. The chapter on recycling is especially disturbing in its reversal of received wisdom.

It is published by the progressi
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
My brother suggested I read this book after an email I sent to him bemoaning all the waste our home remodel was regenerating. It's not an engaging text by any means; I found it difficult to read and often had to force myself through a chapter at a time. The history of garbage disposal is an interesting topic - who knew our waste hauler, Waste Management Inc., was the largest hauler in the country? That much of what we so carefully sort and clean for recycling is, literally, trashed because the d ...more
Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
a straight-forward, readable account of what happens to waste when it's disposed in america. rogers begins with some scary facts, and works backwards throughout the history of trash and clean-up for the past 200-ish years. it's not the most exciting book in the world, but it's clear and reasonable, and it makes a strong argument. i found the conclusion particularly useful, when rogers (following a chapter devoted to the ups-and-downs of recycling) makes several compelling suggestions for public ...more
Kayla Giordano
Aug 29, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was highly educational and really enlightened me when it came to understanding how garbage and recycling really works throughout the U. S. This book would be great as required reading for students studying environmental science. However, as someone who picked this book up more for recreation, I did feel it was a little slow and repetitive in it's points. ...more
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Placeholder review

Placeholder review. Predictably depressing but an essential read nonetheless, this book is more than a Marxist screed telling you the depressing crap you already knew. Some copyediting errors mar an important look into detritus as a mirror.
Linda Gaines
This is a well researched book that is also well written. It takes a look at how we became such a consumption based society that creates so much trash. However, as environmental engineer, I took serious offense at one chapter that basically blames sanitation engineers, as environmental engineers were previously known, for the creation of trash. The author's argument seems to be that if engineers weren't so good at what they do, in this case, dealing with trash that society has created, then soci ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
It took me a long time to get through this, relative to it's length. Not that the topic matter wasn't exactly what I'd been hoping to find, but I guess I wasn't crazy about the writing all the time. Sometimes it lost me. BUT I pushed through because the information contained in this book is crucial to anyone, especially anyone who is truly ready to learn more about what happens to all the waste we produce. Or maybe I should say the opposite, especially for anyone who hasn't yet realized the dama ...more
Viktor Alasti
Jun 26, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Book blatantly examines the science and economic factors involved behind trash. A raw account, but extremely informational overview of trash and recycling that sheds light on the issues and weaknesses in our integrated system. I was completely amazed by almost, each page I read through held crazy statistics and analytics on trash. It also noted all of the flaws a capital rich economy like the US holds through revealing facts whether the reader likes it or not. I'll close this review with a quote ...more
Rebecca Gilbert
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was completely fascinating and I wholeheartedly disagree with those readers who found it lagging. I specifically found the politics of waste management to be incredibly interesting as I had no idea that so much lobbying occurred to both prevent waste reduction laws and to even actively encourage increased wasting. Reading this book really expanded my views of waste management and made me realize how insane and unsustainable our current system is.
Camille McCarthy
Feb 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a very well-researched book on what happens to garbage and how it got to be this way, looking back at the history of waste collection in the United States. It's so upsetting to see how we went from having almost no waste (everything was seen as useful) to seeing everything around us as eventual trash. It was interesting to see the different methods of using discarded items, such as feeding slop to pigs, sorting and selling certain items, and composting, and seeing how these methods wer ...more
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this when it first came out, in 2006, and despite other reviewers' complaints of its dullness, I found it fascinating and extremely readable. And it angered me. One particular chapter I remember most clearly - one that I tend to cite during dinner parties, before I stop myself - is called "The Golden Age of Waste", and deals with the post-war consumer boom in America. Everyone had a kitchen full of shiny new appliances, so advertisers began to convince people they needed a second fridge f ...more
Jun 01, 2008 rated it liked it
The first part of this book was hard to get through. In fact, the folks who loaned it to me both put it down after the first few chapters. They warned me that it was depressing, and holy cow they were right. I started it at the same time that I was reading "Where We Stand: Class Matters," and the two ended up complementing each other in an interesting way. bell hooks' discussion of class as it relates to wealth, poverty, materialism and the sharing of resources speaks to the history of American ...more
Trisha Quigley-Regan
excellent. This book is very factually and at times get drag, but the facts about the history and impact of US garbage are horrific. This book will change the way you choose to purchase and consume. Americans consume way to much garbage, and useless products and packaging. I believe I can not change everything but that one person CAN do so much, and try their hardest not to be one of the billions of people carelessly polluting the earth. It isn't as though our consumption began from need, it beg ...more
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Gone Tomorrow was a very eye opening book about the reality of waste in America. It really focuses on how capitalism has had a major influence on the amount of garbage that is produced each year. It also focuses on the amount of garbage produced by every person each day and where it all goes.

I liked how this book sort of gives you a behind the scenes look a what is really happening. It lets the reader know that this is a huge environmental issue that is worsening each day due to the selfishness
Oct 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
"The important thing to remember about landfills is that they're not just an unfortunate byproduct of capitalism; they actually represent the success of capitalism" (152). So Heather Rogers quotes John Marshall. Rogers quotes many waste historians, business insiders, government officials, and grassroots activists in this well researched and written book. She traces the modern conceptions of "garbage" and the disposal of "garbage" from 1800's America when few had many manufactured goods and glean ...more
Oct 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, adult
The United States generates approximately 230 million tons of garbage every year --about 4.6 pounds per person per day. Gone Tomorrow by Heather Rogers, is an attempt to find out where it eventually ends up and why.
Sure, recycling has become more readily available to the average consumer, but remarkably, a lot of what you and I "recycle" ends up buried or incinerated, along with the non-recyclables. Why? The answer lies with the first part of the waste-reduction mantra "reduce -- reuse -- recyc
Jul 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I found Gone Tomorrow highly enlightening. I had been completely unaware of the transformation of conceptions of garbage in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States and the rest of the western world. Most of the book is quite historical, describing incidents from the shift away from pigs as a waste-disposal method in the 1920s to the breakup of the "garbage mafiosi" system in New York in the 1990s. But at its heart this is not a historical book, but an environmental one, with the goal to ...more
Jennifer Scappettone
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Crucial, if not always elegantly composed. A reader on Amazon criticizes this book for not coming up with any solutions to the waste crisis. This is not the case. Only a reader looking for a quick fix to an apocalyptic problem or a beguiling inspirational narrative such as Cradle to Cradle would make this claim. The book underscores that the only way to undo the damage we have done to the planet and to ourselves is to consume less--and thereby to initiate a fundamental, systemic break in the way ...more
Apr 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
I choose this book for book critique for my Geography class, I have to say it definately made me look at garbage in a whole new light, mostly in regards to the production of garbage. My biggest complaint about the book was the sheer amount of notes and citations, it was very distracting at times. But in regards to the subject at hand, I suppose facts are necessary. I agree with a few of the other, this book was very depressing, it makes me wonder what we are leaving behind for our children to de ...more
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had to read this book for a semester in one of my classes. Very informative and well organized and brings attention to a topic we aren't always thinking about even though it's all around us. I admit, my professor was a bit way overboard with conservative passion for the topic so my colleagues and myself weren't so able to take the book's message to heart and just were aiming for a grade. But, there's no harm in reading this recreationally and there will probably be some pro-Eco motivation gain ...more
Kay Marie
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
best horror novel I've read in a while! oh wait this is nonfiction.... but seriously I've learned so much from this book. it makes me so sad how greedy and short sighted American manufacturers are. since starting this book I've made a very serious effort to reduce my waste before i even bring it into the house. I'm seeking out products based on the least amount of packaging used. I'm painfully aware of my waste now and i really think before i do anything. i wish everyone would read this book and ...more
Anthony Schein
Feb 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who care
I am currently reading this book. It is excellent.

Did you know that:
*Drinking straws are so named because before plastic drinking straws, people used straw (like in barns) to drink through?

*At the turn of the 20th century, there were 3.5 million horses on the urban streets of the United States, each of which excreted 20 pounds of manure and 2 gallons of urine for every eight hour work day.

*Americans produce 30 per cent of the world's garbage
Dora Caro
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent discussion about how the Capitalism has created this huge problem, and how this system has a key tactic of blaming individuals on the responsibility for the environmental degradation, and to displace this responsibility away from industrial production. "Packages do not litter, people do" The author, discuss some historical capitalism examples on greenwashing.
I found Heather Rogers an inspiring author !!!
Dec 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
An (often politicized) read for those who want to read about the history of garbage production and disposal (and there must be a ton of you). I did find myself wanting to change my habits. The amount of stuff we waste and the impact of small things on the planet is astounding. Well, "duh," but this book explains exactly why and how. ...more
Aug 14, 2008 rated it liked it
The topic of waste management is definitely being approached from a conflict theorist point of view in this NYT bestseller by Heather Rogers. While it lacks the more metered approach of Rafje and Murphy's "Rubbish" (Univ of Arizona Press, 2001), and is replete with value judgements and one liners, it does fill in some interesting historical gaps with the phenomenon of waste management. ...more
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Heather Rogers is a journalist and author. She has written for the New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, and The Nation. Her first book, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, traces the history and politics of household rubbish in the United States. The book received the Editor’s Choice distinction from the New York Times Book Review, and Non-Fiction Choice from the Guardian (UK). Her docume ...more

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“And in garbage we find material proof that there is no plan for stewarding the earth, that resources are not being conserved, that waste and destruction are the necessary analogues of consumer society. This” 0 likes
“About 80 percent of U.S. products are used once and then discarded.13” 0 likes
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