by Edward Humes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

David Humes's Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash (published in 2012) is a work of nonfiction, and so its characters are historical and contemporary figures. One such character is Jesse Gaston, a seventy-six-year-old chemist, who, along with his retired wife, was trapped by trash. These two are an example that Humes cites of "hoarders," a group of people whose circumstances have been sensationalized by television shows such as the A&E Network's Hoarders. Humes's punchline is that the amount of trash generated by such people is normal; what is anomalous is only that they don't get rid of it systematically, like most of America.

In addition to furnishing plenty of statistics of excessive consumption, Humes's work also traces how the government has promoted consumption as part and parcel of the American Dream. He notes that the government has an economic interest in promoting spending, and so consumption is celebrated at America's own peril. In this discussion, he adduces President Eisenhower "suggested that shopping was tantamount to a patriotic act" (65).

Another interesting figure included in Humes's monograph is the CEO of Waste Management, David Steiner. Steiner's company earns $12 billion in revenues and enjoys a customer base of 22 million customers (83). Humes explains how Steiner was initially reluctant to believe a consultant's suggestion that his company be considered "Materials Management," but, taking his lead from other giant companies, like Walmart, he believes that the future of trash is to re-purpose it (e.g., for gas).

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