Total Garbage: How We Can Fix Our Waste and Heal Our World

By Edward Humes

What happens to our trash? Why are our oceans filling with plastic? Do we really waste 40 percent of our food 65 percent of our energy? Waste is truly our biggest problem, and solving our inherent trashiness can fix our economy, our energy costs, our traffic jams, and help slow climate change—all while making us healthier, happier and more prosperous.     This story-driven and in-depth exploration of the pervasive yet hard-to-see wastefulness that permeates our daily lives illuminates the ways in which we’ve been duped into accepting absolutely insane levels of waste as normal. Total Garbage also tells the story of individuals and communities who are finding the way back from waste, and showing us that our choices truly matter and make a difference.

Our big environmental challenges – climate, energy, plastic pollution, deforestation, toxic emissions—are often framed as problems too big for any one person to solve. Too big even for hope. But when viewed as symptoms of a single greater problem—the epic levels of trash and waste we produce daily–the way forward is clear. Waste is the one problem individuals can positively impact—and not just on the planet, but also on our wallets, our health, and national and energy security. The challenge is seeing our epic wastefulness clearly.

Total Garbage will shine a light on the absurdity of the systems that all of us use daily and take for granted—and it will help both individuals and communities make meaningful changes toward better lives and a cleaner, greener world.

A comprehensive introduction to the plastics life cycle—the impacts on our lives, our future, and our planet—and the actions we can take.

Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by plastics: perhaps you have a book in one hand and your phone—made of various metals, plastics, and glass—in the other, or you are reading this on your polyurethane mattress after having flipped on a plastic light switch. In this Essential Knowledge series volume, Imari Walker-Franklin and Jenna Jambeck provide a deep exploration of the entire life of plastic things—plastics production and use, plastic waste generation and management, the environmental and societal impacts of plastics in our environment, and, finally, the policies that can help reduce pollution caused by our heavy use of plastics.

One of the most current and comprehensive summaries on the subject, Plastics covers not only ocean and terrestrial plastic pollution but also the potential harms of microplastics on the human body. The authors also explain why we use plastic for so many products, how trash ends up in even the most remote corners of our world, and the alternatives and interventions that can help address our overreliance on this virtually imperishable material. As easily digestible to read as it is important, this book empowers its readers with the crucial knowledge and information they need to make thoughtful consumer choices, influence change, and spark inspiration.

“In the seas is where we find Flidgywumper, a lovable little green fish, who — in this beautifully illustrated book — shows young readers the scope of the plastic problem, and offers ideas for how to solve it. Flidgywumper Saves the Seas is a book that inspires children — and the adults in their lives  — to care and ultimately take action to turn the tide on plastic pollution and bring about positive change.” — Julia Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition

Flidgywumper Saves the Seas is written by Karin Westdyk and illustrated by Katharina Pachta

Art Works by Ken Grossinger is a book giving an inside look at the organizers and artists on the front lines of political mobilization and social change. In Art Works, noted movement leader Ken Grossinger chronicles these efforts for the first time, distilling lessons and insights from grassroots leaders and luminaries such as Ai Weiwei, Courtland Cox, Jackson Browne, Dianna Cohen, Julia Cohen, Shepard Fairey, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Alexander, Bill McKibben, JR, Jose Antonio Vargas, and others.

There is virtually nowhere on Earth today that remains untouched by plastic and ecosystems are evolving to adapt to this new context. While plastics have revolutionized our modern world, new and often unforeseen effects of plastic and its production are continually being discovered. Plastics are entangled in multiple ecological and social crises, from the plasticization of the oceans to the embeddedness of plastics in political hierarchies.

The complexities surrounding the global plastic crisis require an interdisciplinary approach and the materialities of plastic demand new temporalities of thought and action. Plastic Legacies brings together scholars from the fields of marine biology, psychology, anthropology, environmental studies, Indigenous studies, and media studies to investigate and address the urgent socio-ecological challenges brought about by plastics. Contributors consider the unpredictable nature of plastics and weigh actionable solutions and mitigation processes against the ever-changing situation. Moving beyond policy changes, this volume offers a critique of neoliberal approaches to tackling the plastics crisis and explores how politics and communicative action are key to implementing social, cultural, and economic change.

Editors: Trisia Farrelly, Sy Taffel, Ian Shaw

Contributors: Sasha Adkins, Sven Bergmann, Stephanie Borrelle, Tridibesh Dey, Eva Giraud, Christina Gerhardt, John Holland, Deidre McKay, Laura McLauchlan, Mike Michael, Imogen Napper, Tina Ngata, Sabine Pahl, Padmapani L. Perez, Jennifer Provencher, Elyse Stanes, Johanne Tarpgaard, Richard Thompson, and Lei Xiaoyu.

Much of what you’ve heard about plastic pollution may be wrong. Instead of a great island of trash, the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of manmade debris spread over hundreds of miles of sea—more like a soup than a floating garbage dump. Recycling is more complicated than we were taught: less than nine percent of the plastic we create is reused, and the majority ends up in the ocean. And plastic pollution isn’t confined to the open ocean: it’s in much of the air we breathe and the food we eat.  

In Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis, journalist Erica Cirino brings readers on a globe-hopping journey to meet the scientists and activists telling the real story of the plastic crisis. From the deck of a plastic-hunting sailboat with a disabled engine, to the labs doing cutting-edge research on microplastics and the chemicals we ingest, Cirino paints a full picture of how plastic pollution is threatening wildlife and human health. Thicker Than Water reveals that the plastic crisis is also a tale of environmental injustice, as poorer nations take in a larger share of the world’s trash, and manufacturing chemicals threaten predominantly Black and low-income communities.  

There is some hope on the horizon, with new laws banning single-use items and technological innovations to replace plastic in our lives. But Cirino shows that we can only fix the problem if we face its full scope and begin to repair our throwaway culture. Thicker Than Water is an eloquent call to reexamine the systems churning out waves of plastic waste.