'Garbology' Students Share Their Trashy Tips

I’m getting ready to visit the College of Wooster, where the freshmen class is reading Garbology. I’m already so inspired by the ways students there are challenging themselves to be less trashy. Check out this great video, where a Wooster student named MacKenzie explains how she made her love of coffee less wasteful with reusable mugs and a reusable capsule for her single-cup coffee maker. This even saves her money!

“I’m still getting my morning coffee,” she says, “and I’m creating a lot less waste.”

Robert, meanwhile, says he is avoiding all food packaged in plastic. Emma has ended her addiction to plastic water bottles. I can’t wait to see what other ideas and questions the Wooster students come up with when I visit their Ohio campus on September 26-27.

I love it when Garbology readers reach out to share ways they are being less wasteful — everything from participating in beach cleanups, to composting table scraps, to buying used things whenever possible. One Purdue University Northwest student told me how she created a Bag Monster costume out of hundreds of plastic bags. She it wears it on campus and at community events to raise awareness about the dire effect plastic waste is having on the world’s oceans.

So I’ve started keeping a list of great suggestions from readers who reuse, reduce, recycle, and refuse unwanted items. I’ll be posting the list on my site later this fall and I welcome your trashy suggestions and photos, too. Send me a message at ehumes@edwardhumes.com and I’ll add your suggestions to the list!

Do Green Schools Work?

After decades of making ecology central to curriculum, campus, and culture, America's greenest universities are starting to ask a seemingly simple question: Is it working?

My latest article for Sierra Magazine examines how colleges with strong focuses on the environment are trying to measure the footprint of a green education.

Photo from Sierra and courtesy of Dan Hamerman/Green Mountain College

The Garbology Response

The response to Garbology has been overwhelming. Communities and campuses are using the book for discussion, debate and all manner of digging into our dirty love affair with trash. Best of all, people are going beyond the printed (or digital) page to hunt down senseless waste in their own daily lives, to create fantastic trashy events and web resources, and to come up with their own unique solutions to our 102-ton legacy.

BTW, 102 tons is the average amount of trash each American is on track to make in his or her lifetime. That means if you piled all your trash on the front lawn, you'd find that each person in the average American household generates 1.3 tons of trash a year. That's twice what the average person threw out in 1960, which makes today's Americans the most wasteful people on the planet, with grave consequences for nature and the economy.

It is not a pretty picture, but my goal in writing Garbology was not merely to throw light on the often invisible waste embedded in our consumer society, but also to show the individuals, cities and businesses that are finding a way back from our disposable economy, and who are discovering that waste is the one big social and environmental problem that everyone can do something about. That's exactly what the communities embracing Garbology are doing in a big way right now.

Here's a sampling: Palos Verdes and the One Book, One Peninsula program in Los Angles County are sponsoring a series of events, contests, displays, fairs and discussions about trash, recycling and the reuse economy. A trash art piece, Gar-Bal, has been making the rounds to get the discussions rolling, most recently at the the Rolling Hills Estates branch of the Malaga Bank. The Book Frog Book Store is also joining in.

Marymount University, meanwhile, is making Garbology its campus read, is staging an event around the theme of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and has come up with its own readers guide and discussion points. Cal State Northridge has also made Garbology is freshman read and making waste its convocation theme in September and its Sustainability Day in October.

I'll be at Cal State Northridge on September 12. On September 27, I'll be joining the Garbology discussion at Palos Verdes High School, Peninsula High School and Marymount University, followed by a discussion at the Palos Verdes Public Library on September 28.

Garbology Goes to College

Terrific news: Cal State University Northridge has selected Garbology as this fall's common read for incoming freshmen -- with the book nominated and chosen by faculty, staff and students. I'm looking forward to speaking with the 4,000 freshmen at the university convocation in September.

This is what Learning Resource Center staffer Debbi Mercado wrote in nominating Garbology:
"I think the book could result in a number of interesting campus projects and leave us all with a sense of empowerment and a desire to make some changes in our daily lives. . . . it provides great fodder for classroom discussions and even personal reflections about consumerism, waste, environmental issues, values, the daunting math of it all, and how we might each change our trash habits."

A Fracking Story

Here's my latest story in the July/August issue of Sierra Magazine:
The supple hills of Southwestern Pennsylvania, once known for their grassy woodlands, red barns, and one-stoplight villages, bristle with new landmarks these days: drilling rigs, dark green condensate tanks, fields of iron conduits lumped with hissing valves, and long, flat rectangles carved into hilltops like overgrown swimming pools, brimming with umber wastewater. Tall metal methane flaring stacks periodically fill the night with fiery glares and jet engine roars. Roadbeds of crushed rock, guarded by No Trespassing signs, lie like fresh sutures across hayfields, deer trails, and backyards, admitting fleets of tanker trucks to the wellheads of America's latest energy revolution.

This is the new face of Washington County, the leading edge of the nation's breakneck shale gas boom. Natural gas boosters, President Barack Obama among them, have lauded it as a must-have, 100-year supply of clean, cheap energy that we cannot afford to pass up.

But unlocking half-billion-year-old hydrocarbon deposits carries a price, and not everyone shares in the bonanza. For every new shale well, 4 million to 8 million gallons of water, laced with potentially poisonous chemicals, are pumped into the ground under explosive pressure--a violent geological assault. And once unleashed, the gas requires a vast industrial architecture to be processed and moved from the wells to the world. Imagine the pipes, compressors, ponds, pits, refineries, and meters each shale well in Pennsylvania demands, planted next to horse farms, cornfields, houses, and schools. Then multiply by 5,000.

"It's changed everything, all right," says Pam Judy, a resident of Carmichaels, in neighboring Greene County. Her now-unsellable dream home sits 780 feet downwind of three enormous gas compressors, which appeared in 2009. "It sounds like helicopters in the backyard," she says. "The fumes make me dizzy. My children get headaches and nosebleeds. Some opportunity...."
Read more in "Fractured Lives" in the new issue of Sierra Magazine. I traveled to Pennsylvania and Ohio to investigate the health and environmental impact of fracking, and learned that the so-called 100-year supply of clean energy is really only proven to be 11 years worth of gas -- and that it's being extracted in such an extreme and wasteful manner that its greenhouse gas footprint exceeds that of coal.  

Garbology Out, Fresh Air, CNN and More

My new book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash came out this week. Highlights include my conversation with Terry Gross on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, and CNN's report on my visit to L.A.'s Garbage Mountain -- one of the many colorful settings in Garbology.

UpdateGarbology also is featured in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Los Angles Times, and elsewhere; get the full Media Update here.

Book Giveaways: Visit the Garbology Facebook Page and you'll automatically be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of Garbology if you like the page or leave a comment sharing your favorite tip for being less wasteful. The drawing is May 5.

Meanwhile, over at Frugalista.com, Natalie McNeal also has a Garbology giveaway underway.