Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 273
Garbology's title evinces its content: it is a study of trash. This work of non-fiction from a prize-winning journalist is a twofold discussion of trash and pollution. According to Humes, Americans generate eighteen times their body weight in trash annually. He adds that, according to the EPA, our trash output has increased by 1/3 between 1980 and 2000. Humes also notes that trash removal is expensive. For example, the opportunity cost of burying trash in landfills is significant; this same land could be used for oil, which in turn could be turned into energy. Finally, the impact to the environment is enormous, as much of the trash ends up domestic waters and oceans.
Humes' thesis is succinctly put on page 6: "the American Dream is inextricably linked to an endless, accelerating accumulation of trash.” He explains how American consumerism promotes products that "all come packaged in instant trash . . . [and] what's inside that packaging is destined to break, become obsolete, get used up, or become unfashionable in a few years, months or even days" (6).
There is a reluctant optimism to the book, which outlines how certain companies, such as Walmart and Waste Management, are trying to make their processes greener. Another apt quote is taken from the CEO of Waste Management, David Steiner, who states that "someday we might pay customers for their trash, rather than the other way around" (84). Here, he speaks of the promise he sees of using landfills as a source of synthetic gasoline.
Overall, the book is less instructive on the level of the individual (though Humes does suggest buying things secondhand) and more expository (i.e., explaining what measures large companies have taken).
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