October 22, 2014: Garbology News

Our featured news story comes from our neck of the planet, Marysville, Washington, where a woman is fighting city hall, literally.

KingTV news story on Marysville woman protesting garbage bill and can.

King-TV in Seattle reports on a woman in Marysville willing to go to jail rather than use her garbage can.

She canceled her garbage pickup 20 years ago. Now that her Snohomish County home was annexed to the city of Marysville, she is required to use the provided 36 gallon garbage can and she refuses to use it, tried to return it, and refuses to pay the garbage bill for a can and garbage she says she does not need nor want. Because she has failed to pay her utility bill that includes sewer, water, and garbage, the city is threatening to turn off her services, and could have her arrested.

Historical City and Garbage Image Collection: As highlighted in “Historical Images from Seattle Municipal Archives” on this site recently, the Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr features images over the years of garbage trucks and sanitation workers. The images are public domain, though a citation is appreciated.

The Intersection of Science and Policy: In the Corvallis Gazette Times, editor Mike McInally asks if academia is thinking too much, citing the Garbology Common Read project at WSU, that explores the issue of impartial research as “we grapple with increasingly complex issues that require scientific input,” and its impact on public policy as well as academia.

Finally, peer inside yourself for evidence of what experts call “confirmation bias”: The tendency we all have (yes, even editorial writers) to give more weight to evidence that confirms our beliefs than to evidence that challenges them.

Kathryn Schulz’s excellent book “Being Wrong” offers a broader discussion of this and the many other ways in which we can deceive ourselves. Writes Schulz: “We don’t assess evidence neutrally; we assess it in light of whatever theories we’ve already formed on the basis of whatever other, earlier evidence we have encountered.”

We live in a world which increasingly requires a measure of scientific literacy. The good news is that it’s not outside our reach – but it requires a dose of intelligent skepticism, and that includes being willing to think deeper about our own beliefs.

Student Garbology Site – Wordless Wednesday: While the student site is still in development in coordination with the CTEC 160 WordPress I class, we’ve created a weekly “Wordless Wednesday” meme for students once the site goes live, and instructors if they wish to use these in their classes.

The idea is based upon the long-held blogging tradition for bloggers to publish an image on Wednesdays without commentary. They encourage their readers to respond to the image in the comments. Some readers are inspired to write poems, share stories, offer commentary and essays, or just add a few thoughtful comments – it’s an opportunity for a prompt, to create a discussion based upon a visual.

If you would like to offer or recommend images to this project for the student site or for your class, please contact us.

The following is a summary of the news in and around the subject of garbology, our regular attempt to collect more resources, references, and information you may use in your classroom discussions.

Reminders and Nags

Book Club Meeting: Please add Friday, November 21, from 12-1:30PM to your calendar for the next Garbology Book Club Meeting in the Cannell Library (LIB 101). It is open to faculty and students.

Discussions: We have numerous discussions on the site for you to participate in to learn more about garbology and how to incorporate it into the classroom. See the Discussions category.

Ideas: If your class has incorporated any or all of the Garbology book into your curriculum, we’d love to hear about it. If not, are you wondering how to incorporate garbology into your curriculum? Check out the list created by the brainstorming sessions from the Faculty Focus event on Clark Faculty Ideas for Garbology Projects.

Garbology, Garbage, Recycling, and Related News

Garbology Announced on The Independent:Clark Throws Book at Garbage” was the clever title for the announcement of the Common Read project for Clark.

Janette Clay, the Transitional Studies Learning Communities manager, said the goal of the common read is to bring students, staff and faculty together with a common theme, and to help students make real-world connections to what they are learning in the classroom.

Jill Darley-Vanis, an English professor who used the book in her English 101 class last spring, said the book “shows how trash is tied to the American way of thinking about happiness and capitalism.”

Ian Roy, who took Darley-Vanis’ English class, said the book speaks to how insane Americans are. It caused most of his classmates to significantly question what they’re doing.

The book covers many themes, including environmental impact, social justice, popular culture, consumerism, and of course, how we deal with trash as a nation, Clay said.

The book can be applied to numerous courses, including economics, political science, English, math, women’s studies, biology, geography, among others, Darley-Vanis said.

“It’s a good book because people haven’t thought about it. It’s one of those things that once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it. No matter how much you think you know, it’s eye-opening. It changes the way we see the country we live in, the way you see your own choices.”

Edward Humes Speaks at WSU on Garbology: A couple weeks ago, author Edward Humes spoke at WSU on the subject of Garbology as part of the university’s Common Reading project. A student reported summed up part of his presentation:

“One, is that we Americans are very trashy people,” Humes said.

Humes said that Americans dump the weight equivalent of 40 air craft carrier’s worth of plastic into the sea each year.

“It is a choice, because our trashiness is not an inevitability, a force of nature, or a necessary evil,” he said.

The second idea he emphasized was that there is a solution to wastefulness. He used three words: napkin, cookie, and a dime, to express examples of sustainability.

The napkin refers to Max Johnson, son of popular Zero Waste Home blogger and author Bea Johnson, who folds a napkin into different compartments to carry his school lunch. Johnson then uses it as a placemat as he eats, then takes it home to be washed and reused.

The cookies are what a school in LA use as an incentive to get students to recycle. During a sustainability conference in the school’s gymnasium, where Humes was a guest, a female student mentioned that the recycling bins were harder to access than the garbage bins. But now that students are given cookies for recycling, the bins are full.

The final solution he mentioned can be found in Los Angeles County, where supermarkets charge a dime for plastic bags. At first shoppers were outraged, and many refused to pay the fee. But now, a year later, disposable bag use is down 75% in one of America’s largest counties.

California: Former developer of Tesla cars, Ian Wright left the company to build sleek, high performance cars, but when those didn’t work out, he investigated using the technology for his engines that run on a variety of fuels to service the truck industry, specifically garbage trucks. As reported in the IEEE Spectrum:

Wrightspeed is also getting attention from people who operate garbage trucks. Garbage and recycling collection company the Ratto Group approached Wrightspeed about creating a powertrain suited to garbage trucks; Wrightspeed did so and Ratto has ordered 17 systems.

“The average garbage truck in the U.S. spends $55,000 a year on fuel, and up to $30,000 a year on maintenance, mostly brake replacements.” Wrightspeed’s electric motors will cut those fuel costs by more than half, and its regenerative braking technology will cut maintenance costs, also by more than half.

Online edition of the Philippines news story on Canadian trash in the Philippine port.

Canada/Philippines: According to the Rappler, Canada wants to process its “illegal” garbage in the Philippines. Garbage shipped out of Canada illegally cannot be returned, says the Canadian government, leaving the 50 shipping containers sitting on a dock in Manila, leaking and creating environmental and political nightmares for everyone as the issue goes through international governments, agencies, and courts, says The National Post of the Philippines.

In related news, the British Columbia government has denied Metro Vancouver (BC) from taking mixed truckloads of garbage out of the region for disposal or recycling. With the money to be made from recycling, and the desire to keep the jobs in the hands of a few companies, this ban limits the distance the trash is permitted to travel for handling.

Metro has set a goal of 80-per-cent recycling by 2020. Currently, the region has a 55-per-cent recycling rate, largely due to the efforts made by residents in single-family residents. It is expected to go up significantly in 2015, when food scraps are banned from the landfill and all multi-family and commercial operations are required to come up with a plan for recycling organics.

But since the board approved that plan, a number of private companies have said they would like to build a new kind of recycling facility, one that takes the mixed garbage that people can’t or won’t sort themselves in their homes or businesses. In these mixed-waste recycling facilities, garbage goes through mechanical sorting that businesses claim can recover up to 60 per cent of material for recycling.

Port Angeles, Washington: The Peninsula Daily News reports that the Strait of Juan de Fuca coastal city of Port Angeles is cleaning out the garbage once dumped at the end of the street into a “dump” off the bluff’s edge. The cleanup of more than 400,000 cubic yards of trash, old cars, household trash, ropes, nets, plastic, glass, bicycles, etc., will cost closer to $21.25 million and take another year, though paying off the bill by local citizens could take 25 years or more. The garbage isn’t going far. It is being relocated to a landfill site on higher ground nearby.

New York: CBS New York reported that Upper East Side residents are protesting a garbage transfer station under construction with a “Die-In.” Dozens of people in hospital gowns, masks, and what appeared to be bloody gauze sat and laid down blocking pedestrian and vehicle traffic claiming the marine transfer station under construction will cause air, water, and ground pollution that will kill them.

Cincinnati: WLWT-5 TV reports on a local councilwoman, Amy Murray, riding along with the city sanitation workers to collect garbage recently. The reports states that the city is evaluating changes to the garbage pick-up times and dates as well as routes by getting their hands dirty.

India: The Hindu reports on the B.M. Kaval Reserve Forest and Turahalli Minor Forest and its wildlife and natural habitat is under threat from an overflowing garbage dump in Bangalore. Residents are not just worried about the wildlife habitats but also the potential for groundwater and ecosystem contamination.

Jakarta: The Jakarta Post reports on a kindergarten that accepts recycled garbage for school fees. The five year project accepts recycled goods for the “school and trash bank,” a recycling project that collects garbage from families for income and teaches children to take care of the environment.

Research, References, and Studies

Garbage Truck Images: The Flickr collection Flickr: The World of Garbage Trucks is an amazing collection of current and historical images of garbage trucks.

Garbology History: William L. Rathje died in 2012, but he left behind a legacy of academic professionalism and standards on the science of Garbology. While the word “garbology” was coined by A.J. Weberman, Rathje described it this way in “Garbology for the Masses” on The Journal for Municipal Solid Waste Professionals.

Simply put, the world was right for the times. It epitomizes the way garbologists—garbage people like you and me—have made a difference because we deal with garbage dilemmas in a systematic and scientific manner. But more important, it epitomizes a positive way our society has come to look at itself today…garbage and all.

The new vision of garbage began creeping into the American consciousness on the first Earth Day in 1970, with its mantra that extolled recycling.

We will have more here on the history and legacy of Rathje, including more information on his book with Cullen Murphy, Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage by Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

Garbology Educational and Study Projects

Garbology Archaeology Dig: Washington State University is hosting a university-wide archaeology project based on the book, Garbology called Garbology in the Halls October 11 and 18. Students are to collect and save their trash for one week and then work in small groups to examine what is thrown away using the methods described in chapter 8 of the book. Students will record the trash as an archeologist would, and discuss what our trash tells us about who we are and our sustainability practices. In a class assignment for the English Department, Professor Owen Williams lists the process and assignment instructions for his ENG 101 course. For more information on their projects, see their WSU Common Reading Project program as part of the Office of Undergraduate Education.

Garbology Common Reading Project at Washington State University calendar offers the following events this year for faculty and staff:

  • Common Reading Presentation: Brenda Hillman (Visiting Writer and Environmental Poet) Monday, October 20, 5 pm, Fine Arts Museum
  • Common Reading Event: Bug Appétit with Laura Lavine (Entomology) Saturday, October 25, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., Ensminger Pavillion
  • Common Reading Screening: The Clean Bin Project Tuesday, Oct 28, 7 p.m., Todd Auditorium (Todd 116)
  • Common Reading Lecture Series: Trevor Bond (WSU Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections) Ephemera: yesterday’s trash, today’s archive, Tuesday, November 4, 7 p.m., Heald G3
  • Common Reading Lecture Series: Bill Kabasenche (Philosophy) and Environmental Ethics Students (Phil 370) Waste on the Palouse: A State of the Bioregion Health Report, Tuesday, December 2, 7 p.m., Todd 116
  • Common Reading Presentation: Rani Arbo and Daisy Mahem in Concert, February 6, 7:30 pm, Jones Theatre
  • Common Reading Presentation: Visiting Writers Allison Cobb and Robert Michael Pyle, Tuesday, March 31, time and place TBA

Garbology Etymology: William L. Rathje died in 2012, but he left behind a legacy of academic professionalism and standards on the science of Garbology. While the word “garbology” was coined by A.J. Weberman, Rathje described it this way in “Garbology for the Masses” on The Journal for Municipal Solid Waste Professionals.

Simply put, the world was right for the times. It epitomizes the way garbologists—garbage people like you and me—have made a difference because we deal with garbage dilemmas in a systematic and scientific manner. But more important, it epitomizes a positive way our society has come to look at itself today…garbage and all.

The new vision of garbage began creeping into the American consciousness on the first Earth Day in 1970, with its mantra that extolled recycling.

We will have more here on the history and legacy of Rathje, including more information on his book with Cullen Murphy, Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage by Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

Halloween Costumes from Garbage: One Green Planet offers a tutorial on how to make spooky costumes and decorations from your garbage.

Garbology The Book

Make New Garbage Containers Work: In our Common Read project book, Garbology, it discusses the history of garbage and recycling in New York, and how a corrupt local government was driven out and brought back in as part of “garbage” campaigns that promoted a return to the “single can” instead of the process that required citizens to reduce, reuse, and recycle in three separate trash containers.

The issues in and around the politics of garbage, and the citizen’s response, is alive and well over 100 years later in Orlando, Florida, where the Orlando Sentinel reports that citizens just have to learn how to use the new garbage containers and make the system work, in spite of the bin’s 95-gallon size, and the inability of many elderly citizens to drag the massive container to the side of the street for pickup.

As explained in the article, there is money to be made by increasing the container size for the good of all:

The new garbage scene is far more complicated than the old one, but there’s logic behind it. It was cooked up by a committee of citizens and experts who met over two years to come up with a new scheme, knowing that keeping the same service was an impossibility because it would cost nearly double.

They realized the twin economics of garbage right away:

First, there’s collection. Some hard costs are involved, and they’re pretty simple to calculate: garbage trucks, workers, gasoline and maintenance. Haulers urged the county to switch to the new containers so they could use automated dumping arms, eliminating the need for a second person on a truck and reducing soaring claims for employee back injuries.

Then, there’s disposal. That’s the tricky variable.

The rule of garbage disposal, Stivender said, is to bury or burn as little as possible. That’s why the committee chose to hand out big, sturdy recycling bins. Cutting back the frequency of pickups and providing a better and a bigger container is expected to encourage residents to recycle more and toss out less.

Before the change, the county was paying $40 a ton to burn the garbage at the incinerator. Now, it’s being taken by truck to Brooksville, where it is buried for $19 a ton in landfill.

“It’s all about the math,” Stivender said. “The more you recycle, the less you bury, the more you’re going to save yourself a bunch of money.”

He said that some “really good recyclers” have called the county to exchange their 65-gallon standard recycling container for a 95-gallon one. This is the sort of thing that makes Stivender jump into that 95-gallon cart and wallow with joy amidst the glass bottles and cardboard.

Garbology, Waste Management, Environment, Recycling, and Related Topic Videos

Plastic Paradise: The 2013 documentary film Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch follows filmmaker Angela Sun ato the Midway Atoll to investigate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a severely damaged ecosystem containing accumulated plastic waste that has drifted from three different continents. Along with interviews with scientists, researchers, influencers and volunteers, she explores the reasons behind the Garbage Patch and the impact of waste on our society.

Just Eat It: The documentary Just Eat It features a couple spending 6 months only consuming “wasted food,” the ugly, poor-labeled, discarded food items that are considered otherwise edible, exploring the truth and myths about food expiration dates. According to the Good Magazine interview:

The result is a surprising and eye-opening story about the state of food waste in North America, where 40 percent of the food produced is never consumed (a $165 billion loss), despite our skyrocketing rates of hunger. It’s a stunning thing to see—agricultural fields full of non-marketable produce or dumpsters full of fresh food—when one in five households with children in the U.S. is food insecure.

I sat down with Baldwin and Rustemeyer on the eve of both the film’s U.S. premiere and World Food Day to discuss how the overwhelming issue of food waste might be alleviated on the home front and why, when we produce so much food—more than enough to feed every person in North America, twice over—hunger is still such an epidemic.


We need your input! If you have information, resources, references, or news items related to our campus-wide common read project, Garbology, please let us know. We’re working hard to bring you information to help you include the book and topic of garbology into your classrooms. Let us know how we can help, but we can’t do it without your help, too.

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