One Book, One Peninsula: Garbology Days

I had one of the coolest and and most rewarding experiences an author can have this weekend: an entire community read Garbology, then invited me to speak and lead discussions about our trashy ways (and the way back from them). Los Angeles' Palos Verdes Peninsula had chosen Garbology as its One Book, One City (or in this case, One Book, One Peninsula) community read, and they didn't hold back.

The venues for our trash talk included two high schools, the Marymount California University campus, the newly renovated Palos Verdes Art Center, and the rooftop of the Palos Verdes Library with seating for 500. And however much my book may have inspired or served as a catalyst , the Peninsula communities ended up inspiring me far more. These folks are writing their own Garbology story, going beyond reading and talking. They are making real and original changes in education and community, from bans on foam plastic to convenient and clean alternatives to the endless waste of plastic bottled water.

Left: Sophomore Michaelanne Butler worked to ban foam plastic at Marymount U.
Right: Sustainability Officer Kathleen Talbot and the reusable water bottle fountain

The Peninsula is a sprawling region long dedicated to the preservation of open space and habitat (following a successful campaign in the 1970s to stave off wildland-leveling construction of thousands of condos). That may be why the tidal wave of waste we generate, its impact on coastlines and ocean habitats, and ways in which more sustainable choices can benefit both the environment and the economy -- some of Garbology's main themes -- generated such enthusiasm here.

One of the simplest ideas that came out of a discussion of our 102-trash legacy, the plasticization of our oceans, and the fate of L.A.'s Garbage Mountain revolved around simple incentives to encourage less wasteful choices. At Marymount's campus, a thousand students were going through 1,800 foam plastic carryout containers every week, an immense plastic refuse pile. Now students can choose a compostable clamshell for a quarter, or put a deposit down on a reusable container that gets fully refunded at the end of the school year. And the campus is now foam free.

At Peninsula High School, one young woman proposed an even simpler incentive to persuade kids to recycle more: reward them with a free cookie. At first people laughed, but she was serious: In a world where we subsidize such wasteful products as junk mail with billions of dollars, is a cookie too much to ask? I call that original thinking -- the sort of thinking that accomplishes things by showing how even big problems respond to commonsense and simple solutions.
 Posing with the Gar-Ball trash art project