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Garbology Summary

In Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash, Edward Humes discusses the astounding amount of wastefulness that permeates American society. Humes breaks this nonfiction book down into sections, in which he discusses statistics on wastefulness in the United States, the sociological implications of this wastefulness, the environmental impacts of this wastefulness, and potential alternatives to our wastefulness. Humes begins the book by detailing just how much Americans throw away each year. Humes relays that the average American throws away 7.1 pounds per day, translating to 102 tons of trash in a lifetime. He also describes how American companies are capitalizing on American waste.

For historical context, Humes describes how unsanitary conditions and improper trash management caused rampant illnesses in twentieth-century American cities. Additionally, Humes explains the history of landfills and provides alarming information on the growth of monumentally large landfills in the United States. As the novel progresses, Humes continues to present additional alarming statistics of American wastefulness. Humes provides an analysis of the micro and macro implications of our wasteful society. For instance, Humes explores the lives of a trash-hoarding couple in Chicago and also details how one of the largest components of the United States' largest exports is, in fact, trash. The United States' chief exports, as of 2010, were waste paper and scrap metal. This micro and macro analysis powerfully underscores how deeply waste permeates American society.

Humes explores the environmental impacts of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean and how our wastefulness impacts the globe through air pollution and pollution of the world's oceans. He provides statistics on the harm caused to marine life through this pollution. For example, Humes details how a two-year-old whale in the Pacific Ocean was found with over 450 pounds of trash in its digestive tracts and how 9% of fish examined by researchers had plastic in their digestive tracts.

Humes then wraps up the book through discussing the ways in which individuals and countries are attempting to reduce the harm caused by trash pollution and find alternatives to simply creating massive, harmful landfills.