Garbology

by

Edward Humes

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Garbology Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Edward Humes's Garbology. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Edward Humes

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and educated at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Edward Humes began his career as a newspaper journalist. In 1989, he won a Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting, and within a few years, he transitioned from focusing on newspaper journalism to focusing on book-length nonfiction. Some of his most noteworthy titles include Garbology, Mississippi Mud, No Matter How Loud I Shout, A Man and His Mountain, and Beyond the Snitch Tank. His books span a wide range of topics, with a particular focus on true crime and, more recently, sustainability. They have also received awards and been frequently included on books-of-the-year lists. Humes currently lives in Southern California with his wife, Donna Wares, who is also a journalist and author.
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Historical Context of Garbology

Garbology was published in 2012, and most of the book deals with events in the couple of years before then. Perhaps the most important context for these events (covered in the early chapters of the book) is the rise of consumerist culture in the United States. The invention of plastics, TV advertising, and the booming economy after World War II all encouraged a culture of wastefulness that directly connects back to the overflowing landfills of 2012 (which remain an issue in the present day). Another event that factors heavily into the modern problems of consumerism and waste is the Industrial Revolution (which is generally dated from 1760-1840), as well as its later period or what is sometimes called the Second Industrial Revolution. During the Second Industrial Revolution (which spanned from 1870-1914), mass production and fossil fuel energy first became standards, leading to unprecedented levels of waste and pollution, particularly in urban areas.

Other Books Related to Garbology

Humes was influenced by literary journalists of the mid-to-late 20th century, including Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), John McPhee (Looking for a Ship; The Ransom of Russian Art), and Joan Didion (Slouching Towards Bethlehem). More recently, he has mentioned the influence of socially conscious nonfiction like Factory Girls by Leslie T. Change, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, and Common Wealth by Jeffrey Sachs, all of which were written just a few years before Garbology by writers who would’ve been Humes’s contemporaries. Garbology itself became influential, particularly after being chosen for several campus-wide reading programs. The issues raised in the book continue to be relevant and written about, attracting coverage from newspapers around the world. Adam Minter’s Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Multi-Billion Dollar Trash Trade, for instance, explores where garbage goes once it’s thrown out, while journalist Susan Freinkel focuses specifically on plastic in her book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story.
Key Facts about Garbology
  • Full Title: Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
  • When Written: Early 2010s
  • Where Written: Southern California
  • When Published: 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Setting: The United States in the 2010s
  • Climax: Several climate-minded startups get sued by big polluter companies, right as they’re on the verge of success.
  • Antagonist: The status quo and consumerists, like the plastic bag industry and J. Gordon Lippincott
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for Garbology

Road Rage. Humes is an outspoken critic of cars, calling their central place in American life “insane.” He notes that if the modern U.S. were a war zone, its car-filled highways would make it the most dangerous war zone of all time, with one year of car-related deaths being higher than one year of fatalities from Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution combined.

Dog Person. Edward Humes supports animal adoption and helped rescue three greyhounds: Simon, Pirate, and Romeo.