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.

Everyone is talking about reuse. It’s a promising approach to drastically reduce packaging waste, but scaling it up responsibly calls for some careful considerations. Check out Food Packaging Forum’s fact sheet for a quick introduction!

The Joint Initiative for Sustainable Humanitarian Assistance Packaging Waste Management has prepared these guidelines to emphasize the importance of reducing packaging materials and prioritizing refusal and reduction over recycling due to the challenges of collection and recycling in areas where humanitarian operations take place.

To reduce packaging waste, it is important to choose packaging-free alternatives, advocate for suppliers of packaging materials to reduce packaging, eliminate single-use plastics, optimize the size of the packaging, and enable packaging to be reused or repurposed using innovative designs.

Following the waste-management hierarchy, this document also provides comprehensive guidelines to ensure sound management of packaging waste reuse and repurpose, recycling, and disposal in humanitarian operations.

The Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) has created a database of reusable to-go containers and tracking apps. Learn how to navigate the growing options for reusable to-go containers, designed especially for students on school campuses.

Plastic pollution experts make a case for addressing toxic additives, unintentionally added substances, and contaminants in plastics. They point out that current regulations fail to require plastic producers to track or make available information on harmful chemicals in plastics. For these reasons, the experts say that before recycling can be considered as part of the approach to end plastic pollution, especially if it becomes part of the UN Plastics Treaty, plastic’ chemicals must be simplified through a major reduction of the expansive amount of chemicals used in plastics production.

The plastic pollution crisis requires urgent action, and there is no silver bullet solution. Promising research continues to emerge around solutions, including alternative materials to single-use plastic. However, labels like “compostable” and “biodegradable” are misleading and lack transparency about what happens if products and packaging end up in the environment. Better Alternatives 3.0 offers greater transparency around these novel materials, their real-world behavior in the environment, and considerations that should be made before the widespread adoption of bioplastics in all sectors of society.