Sierra magazine recently sat down with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Humes to talk about his new book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash (Avery, 2012).
SIERRA: Is there a way that we can change today's convenience mindset of disposable everything and come back to a society with less waste?
Edward Humes: J. Gordon Lippencott, the father of corporate branding, gave us the philosophical statement of what the economy would look like after WWII. It was based on getting people to violate their most basic instinct of survival — to be thrifty — and [embrace the idea] that it was a good thing to get rid of perfectly good usable products and replace them with something new. That was the core of this new economy of abundance. It’s an illusion that things will never run out. We are an experiment on waste as the driver of prosperity.
Well, we do all seem to want to have the most up-to-date technologies. How can we change that?
With the up-to-date technology of days gone by, you could go to the store and buy a television set and bring it home and you could be assured that if something in it failed or some component was developed that was superior, it could be upgraded. There was a built-in longevity to a lot of our products that has gone away. We’ve accepted this idea that durable goods are no longer durable.
What is the most shocking thing that you discovered?
The whole idea that waste has become such a big part of our economy — that it is our top export. Scrap paper and scrap metal are our highest volume exports. We send more of that to China than anything else. They make stuff out of it and sell it back to us. That casts us in the role of China’s trash compacter.