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Review of "Garbology, Our Dirty Little Love Affair with Trash"

Guest post by Jeannette Frechou, Wood Middle School

Garbology, by Edward HumesGarbology, by Edward Humes

For anyone who wants to change to a more sustainable lifestyle or needs a Primer to teach conservation, "Garbology, Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash" by Edward Humes is a must read!  This Pulitzer prize-winning author weaves a historically compelling narrative of our "out of sight, out of mind" dealings with our trash, from the stories of early immigrants only access to paying jobs, to a modern immigrant's story of becoming a multi-millionaire by selling U.S. trash to China.

Humes keeps the reader actively asking his important questions, "What is the nature of our waste? And "How can we move from waste management to materials management?" With scientific voices and statistics detailing the plight of our oceans, Humes challenges us to face our disposable lifestyles and wasteful ways in this time of economic hardship in the U.S. His rich examples of people turning trash to treasures and rethinking their waste stream gives hope and creative ideas for us all to make a difference in our lives, communities and oceans' health.


Suggested socratic seminar structure:

Having just finished "Garbology, Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash" by Edward Humes, I was inspired by his compelling writing and examples from history to write up this idea for a Socratic Seminar. In the early part of his book, Humes details the early history of garbage in New York in the 1890's. This was the beginning of using 'transportation' as a method to rid an area of its waste.

As detailed on page 45 of his book:

"A growing city found a new use for this waste: Hauled to a massive ash dump on Barren Island in Jamaica Bay, the refuse was then used to fill in New York marshlands that were subsequently covered over to build houses and marinas. Once that effort was complete and no more waste could be squeezed onto Barren Island, a new ash repository opened - The Corona Dump in Queens, where massive amounts of toxin-laden ash and assorted other trash were again used as landfill to reclaim salt marshes for development. When that was done, the black and gray waste accumulated into a smoldering mountain of ash ninety feet high, a fetid, volcanic landscape. The place was depicted by F. Scott Fitzgerald as 'the Valley of Ashes' in The Great Gatsby." (Humes, 2012)

Using the text from The Great Gatsby is a great opportunity to discuss with students their role in the global warming and trashing of our planet's oceans. Here is the text from The Great Gatsby that describes the Corona Dump, a consequence of our American industrialization:

"a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and Hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air."

It was later covered over and a golf course built upon. So contaminated was It, it had to be sprayed daily with disinfectants for protection of the golfers. (Humes, 2012)

Questions for consideration:

  • How have our waste disposal practices changed from the late 1800's until today? 
  • What role does the individual play in their contributions to waste in landfills? 
  • Is it merely following the rules of sorting your three stream recycling program or does each individual need to examine their accumulation of materials in their daily lives? 
  • How does what you consume aid to your health and the health of our oceans?
  • Given what archaeologists have discovered about ancient cultures such as Mayans, Egyptians and Greeks by uncovering their empires, what will our landfills say about us in the United States of America.