Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash

Well-written overview of the history and current state of trash in the United States. The book only just scratches the surface of various focus areas and moves at a rapid pace.

One of the most interesting portions of the book was the chapter centered around the history of trash management. I especially enjoyed hearing about piggeries – a concept I didn’t know existed until I read about them in this book.

More than two hundred towns with populations over ten thousand built piggeries where raw garbage served as the feed, as what passed for waste experts at the time estimated that seventy-five pigs could dispose of a ton of garbage a day—and provide revenue and meat at the same time. New England led the nation in pursuing this waste-to-swine strategy; turn-of-the-century New Haven sent all its wet garbage, 5,400 tons of it a year, to pig farms, while Worcester, Massachusetts, proudly kept two thousand garbage-swilling swine at its forty-acre piggery near the city limits.

[Piggeries] persisted until the 1960s, when evidence that it could spread disease to both swine and humans became impossible to ignore.

Also interesting is the concept of using trash for energy, something that the United States appears to have mostly resisted. I’d love to learn more about the tradeoffs of this approach.

“Our behavior in the U.S. in this area is really quite irrational. And it’s irresponsible. We are throwing energy and money away every day, burying it in the ground.”

It would be interesting to see what a 2021 version of this book would say. Especially with our current recycling crisis in which many recycled goods can no longer be sent overseas.

Book cover for Garbology
Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
Edward Humes