Talking trash with ‘Garbology’ author Ed Humes

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Puente Hills dump in Whittier, aka Garbage Mountain–the nation’s largest active landfill and said to be a model, if you will, for garbage processing. (Methane’s extracted here, there’s an active recycling center, too, and there’s a wildlife preserve, hiking trail and community college right next door.) The constant parade of arriving garbage trucks is punctuated by the tweets of birds and verdant plantings, twin symbols of our fragile ecosystem.

I hung on the periphery last week with Seal Beach-based Pulitzer prize-winning author Edward Humes, who’s just published a new book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash. This seemed like an interesting place to talk about it with him. “Waste is at the core of most of our economic and environmental problems,” he said. “And trash is a visible manifestation of that. It’s the one thing that anyone can do something about and start making a difference.”

But we’re not. We make twice as much trash as we did in 1960, Humes says–over 7 pounds a person per day here in the US (in Japan, the figure is 2 pounds.) We delude ourselves into thinking that recycling is a help when in fact it’s just a band-aid.  “The solution is not creating that kind of waste in the first place,” he says, pointing to the 60 million bottles of water we consume each day, and piles of junk mail.” The fact that we’re so glued to the idea of disposable everything is evidence of the “triumphs of marketing over common sense.”

Changing our bad habits isn’t necessarily a snap. A fresh Starbucks cup sat in Humes’ car, where we talked.  (He said he planned to re-use it.) And on the way home when I stopped at the grocery store, I realized I’d forgotten, yet again, to put the reusable bags back in the car.