Summary of Garbology

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Garbology book summary

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples


Journalist Edward Humes follows the trail of garbage from product production to waste collection to landfill, incinerator or ocean. He’s a diligent researcher, and he develops the intriguing portraits of his subjects in great detail. His reporting uncovers normal daily practices that have a huge, negative environmental impact. Humes’s shocking overview could foment changes in how you live, what you buy and how you eat, and can spur companies to dispose of trash in an environmentally sensitive way. He offers practical information for managers, purchasers, supply-chain officers, entrepreneurs, retailers and consumers.

About the Author

Edward Humes has written 11 nonfiction books, including Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Walmart’s Green Revolution, and has received a Pulitzer Prize and a Pen Center USA award. He contributes to The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles magazine.


People produce an incredible amount of trash.

Studying a nation’s trash yields precise measurements of its prosperity. The US has only 5% of the world’s population, but produces 25% of the globe’s trash. Residents of the United States, on average, discard more than seven pounds of trash daily, more than those in any other nation. Their individual lifetime total will add up to about 102 tons of garbage. Consider the following figures from a sample of American waste:

  • The United States dumps 19 billion pounds of polystyrene (Styrofoam) packing peanuts every year. These never degrade and can't be recycled.
  • US garbage holds enough aluminum – even though it is recyclable – to rebuild all of the world’s commercial airplanes four times.
  • Americans discard 35 billion plastic water bottles each year.

“Sanitary landfills” are convenient, but they’re a poor long-term waste disposal strategy.

All of this waste has to go somewhere. The current repository in most American cities is a landfill. These are not new inventions. Some 2,500 years ago, the ancient Athenians put trash in landfills to keep their city’s streets...

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