Trail of Trash

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The average American produces 102 tons of garbage in a lifetime. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Edward Humes looks at what’s in that trash; how much we pay for it; how we manage to create so much of it; and how some families, communities, and even nations are finding a way transform waste into energy and prosperity. He investigates the trail of trash in Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Garbage.


Edward Humes

Comments [33]

Amy from Manhattan

Mr. Humes's last comment on how plastics washed out to sea build up in ocean life reminds me of programs on the 2nd anniversary of the BP oil spill disaster, & how bacteria are breaking down some of the oil. I wonder what they're breaking it down into, & what chemicals are working their way up the food chain in the Gulf of Mexico now.

Apr. 26 2012 12:47 PM
John A.

I was down 1 pound a week.
The great destroyer of that? Cats.

Apr. 26 2012 12:41 PM
Sandra from The Bronx

How can we change the laws in NYC so that we are CHARGED for plastic bags as in other cities instead of SAVING 2 cents? Also, so that all plastic & glass bottles can be redeemed?

Apr. 26 2012 12:40 PM
caroline from nyc

In Toronto Canada they have to use a blue bin for recycling a black bin for garbage(whatever cannot be recycled) and a Green Bin which is a Program that collects organic waste (fruit and vegetables scraps, paper towels, coffee grinds, etc.) and turns it into compost. Why do we not do the same

Apr. 26 2012 12:40 PM
Brad H from UWS

Congress doesn't give any money to the post office.
The post office runs only on it's own money.

No taxes go to the Post Office. I am surprised you made this mistake.

Apr. 26 2012 12:39 PM

One of the best things I've done was start bringing my durable fabric bags to the grocery store instead of using countless plastic bags (and groceries are often double-bagged!). This practice, according to my California friend, is much more common on the west cost, but sadly hasn't caught on in the east.

Apr. 26 2012 12:39 PM
Edward D. Weinberger from New York City

A few independent sources on the internet tell me that a pound of waste paper has 2/3 of the heat content of a pound of coal. Why don't we use waste paper as an energy source?

Apr. 26 2012 12:38 PM

How much plastic is part of our bodies?

Apr. 26 2012 12:38 PM

And when we send our "waste" clothing to "third-world" countries, we put their local textile manufacturers out of business. We are so charitable with our waste. Not.

Apr. 26 2012 12:37 PM
Claire from EV

W H Auden said that he didn't find American's materialism disturbing but rather their lack of respect for matter

Apr. 26 2012 12:37 PM
becca from bushwick

Concord Mass just passed a ban on the sale of bottled water

Apr. 26 2012 12:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'd like to see signs in NYC apt. buildings' recycling areas that say something like


Plastic bags
Plastics other than #1 & #2"

& telling people where they *should* recycle them (Styrofoam--the peanuts, at least--to delivery co's., plastic bags to supermarkets, #5 plastics to Whole Foods, which sends them to be made into Preserve brand toothbrushes & tableware). Oh, & a big sign saying to wash out food & drink containers.

Apr. 26 2012 12:35 PM
Kate from Washington Heights

There are places that will refill your desk printer's cartridge.

Apr. 26 2012 12:33 PM
Peter from Brooklyn

I work at a certain cooperative in Brooklyn. Because we are so fastidious with our recycling and produce in great volumes, we receive free waste removal services from our sanitation company. The recyclables are enough of an asset to offset any costs they incur removing our garbage.

Apr. 26 2012 12:31 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I don't throw out ANYTHING, except when (a) it contributes to needless clutter in my modest apartment, or (b) I absolutely have to replace it because it no longer does what is required. I just recently had to buy a somewhat newer computer to be able to run more recent video games, but am still typing right now on my older computer which is more than adequate for everything else. I do still have my just-fine 14 year old CRT TV set, not an HDTV, and do not have any hand-held devices. No cell phone, no Iphone, IPad, etc. Waste of money for me. If the economy had to depend on consumers like me, it would collapse :)

Apr. 26 2012 12:31 PM
Jay from Brooklyn

In a world with increasing problems re the availability of clean water, has anyone ever calculated the impact of washing out cans of tomato paste in order to "decontaminate" them?

Apr. 26 2012 12:31 PM
Kate from Washington Heights

Hi -

Years ago, I used to be able to bring my own containers to a bulk store, but the Health Department made the store stop allowing it - they HAD to begin pre-packaging everything.

Apr. 26 2012 12:30 PM

Will it be ever be possible (financially / physically) to open to up landfill and recycle those long disposed items?

Apr. 26 2012 12:29 PM
JT from LI

Changing people's behavior isn't very difficult. I lived on the west coast for several years and my town collected garbage and recycling once a week and only picked up one can of garbage per household. Recycling became part of the culture because the town made it easy. On Long Island my town picks up garbage twice a week and recycling every other week, with no limit on how much they pick up per household. Seeing that my neighbors are filling two garbage cans twice a week shows that making it easier to throw things away has consequences. Simply changing the pickup schedule would have a significant impact on everyone's behavior, like it did in my previous town.

Apr. 26 2012 12:29 PM
Ellen from Brooklyn

Isn't it true that industrial waste accounts for most solid waste? If yes, what steps are being taken to reduce that waste, e.g., reusable shipping containers and palettes?

Re: consumer waste - how realistic is the idea that it's the Dept of Sanitation's responsibility to educate New Yorkers about strategies for reducing solid waste?


Apr. 26 2012 12:27 PM
Mike from Manhattan

I see these huge 18 wheel container trucks with "municipal[al waste " written on the side
they park in areas where not many people are at might. Is the city just parking huge amounts of garbage on the less used streets?

Apr. 26 2012 12:27 PM
Brian from Hoboken

Plastic bags are unfortunately so ubiquitous. We had a sorrowful running joke in a safari trip to southern Africa regarding the hard to spot "plastic bag bird" in so many trees and bushes.
They should be banned.
I would like to plug a great product that helps keep some plastic bags out of landfills. I hate to see people pick up after their 15 pound dog with a huge grocery bag. These are biodegradeable. I am not affiliated- just a happy customer.

Apr. 26 2012 12:26 PM
CHaz from NJ

What do they do with lechate when it spills or leaks , and how concerned should we be with it seeping into ground water?

Apr. 26 2012 12:26 PM
Robert from Brooklyn

re cat and dog waste- people pick up after their dogs, which is a good thing, and cat litter is now non-flushable. how much is this affecting trash/landfill?

Apr. 26 2012 12:25 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I didn't think biodegradable packaging/tableware/etc. needed any specialized facility other than a compost heap, but what's more important is that too often they're thrown in the trash instead of composted. They won't biodegrade in a landfill. (When I've taken such biodegradable items to the composting bins at the Union Sq. Greenmarket, I show them to the person at the table, & so far she's always said they were fine to compost.)

Apr. 26 2012 12:24 PM

Piggy backing on Sandra from the Bronx, this is our culture. We always want the newest and shiniest. We throw away things that are out-dated not because they're broken. I mean, how does one change this?

Apr. 26 2012 12:24 PM
miriam from new york

There was a great exhibit "Garbage" in the New York Public library some years ago where you could actually smell garbage from the tenements.

Apr. 26 2012 12:24 PM
Joel from Westchester

There is a company that manufactures tableware, packaging, etc. that is compostable: Vegware.

Apr. 26 2012 12:22 PM

Wasn't the type of garbage very different back then as compared to today. Plastics are common now. So incineraton is not the best idea anymore.
Will it be ever be possible (financially / physically) to open to up landfill and recycle those long disposed items?

Apr. 26 2012 12:18 PM
Stephanie McDade from Brooklyn

Fascinated by your show, and frustrated by NYC's lack of recycling efforts. I work in a building that doesn't recycle anything. We throw away paper, glass and aluminum. The building's landlords say that because they're not required to by the city, they don't want to spend the money separating and recycling trash. Why doesn't the city have tougher recycling standards?!

Apr. 26 2012 12:18 PM
John Weber from NJ

Great topic. We can easily reduce unnecessary waste by doing simple things like banning plastic checkout bags. Much of the rest of the world has.

In NYC we need to start with the Queens Library system who offers a plastic bag to for everyone taking out a book, DVD, or CD. Millions of taxpayer-funded bags all for nothing!

Apr. 26 2012 12:13 PM
swifty from Crown Heights

A couple months ago I heard a recycling expert speaking on this station who said that personal, residential garbage accounts for 2 to 3% of the total of what's in landfills in the US. The rest is industrial waste. Is that an accurate number?

Apr. 26 2012 12:11 PM
Sandra from The Bronx

It is such a shame that no one FIXES anything anymore! Remember fixing TVs, toasters, umbrellas, shoes, socks with holes in them?
I'm typing this from a desk that I found in the "garbage" under the light of a lamp that was "garbage" and which I rewired.

When I went to the tailor and asked him to stitch my slightly damaged umbrella back together, he thought I was nuts. Just buy a new one! He did and I have a "new" strong umbrella for $2!
(Why should I go to work an extra hour to pay for a new umbrella?)

And remember the Black Dial Telephone--UNIMAGINABLE to THROW a phone out! Now people toss them into the ocean when they are done without a second thought.

Thanks for this fascinating and important show and book!
I'll wait for the book to be thrown in the garbage to read it--just kidding! Will get it soon!!! : )

Apr. 26 2012 11:01 AM

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