The Afterlife of our Garbage

I recently discovered the hard-to-hear message of Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash (2012) and Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation (2016).  It was his 2016 NPR interview on Door to Door that led me to his equally fascinating and disturbing 2012 NPR interview on Garbology

The Garbology interview reveals staggering statistics on what we all acknowledge to be a problem: the fact that Americans produce 7lbs or trash per person, per day (and that was in 2012).  No matter what we take ownership of, it’s worse than we think. Humes says:

"About 69 percent of that trash goes immediately into landfills. And most landfill trash is made up of containers and packaging — almost all of which should be recycled. It's instant trash. We pay for this stuff, and it goes right into the waste bin, and we're not capturing it the way our recycling programs are intending us to capture it. We're just sticking it in the ground and building mountains out of it."

He goes on to say:

"We have sort of built waste into our entire consumer culture to the point where we don’t notice it anymore because of these conveniences we’ve created for hiding our garbage, but the hidden costs are pretty enormous."

My takeaways from these two interviews: 

 - Often what we think get recycled, doesn’t. 

 - Packaging is burying us alive, despite recycling programs.

 - The majority of plastic in the ocean is from plastic bags (yes, even if you thought you “recycled” those bags.) 

 - Paper bags and plastic bags are equally bad choices. Wow.

- If you think what goes into the landfills is upsetting, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.  The environmental cost that is virtually invisible to us is the emissions from items and their parts that are transported via shipping containers.

Though buying less is part of the solution, there are various ways we can do better, as simply outlined in’s How to Make Less Trash Guide.  When buying anything new, please boycott items with excessive packaging. It sounds simple, but I realize that when we’re one click away from ordering that perfect gift wrapped in a bullet-proof plastic clamshell, it’s not so easy.  That is when I ask you to recall this post. 

I certainly don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but the trash we produce and its environmental effects are my hot-button issue, especially this time of year.  As an organizer, I feel it is my responsibility to pass along what I learn.  Until I am filling only one bag of trash per year, I too have a lot to learn.  Not only will our planet be healthier for it, but so will your home. 

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Office Organizing Expert Kacy Paide loves to do what most people hate: organize offices & paper.

She works with folks who are desperate for a more functional, more beautiful, more inspiring office. Kacy has been a Professional Organizer since 2001 and has worked with over 500 clients. Call her crazy, but she loves a good mess and wants to fix yours. Learn her time-tested solutions in her eBook, The Inspired Office: Organize Your Life One Paper at a Time. Based in Silver Spring, MD, Kacy is nationally available for consulting & speaking.