Talking Trash at Pittsburgh Health and Environment Conference

  • Journalist Edward Humes says Americans are a "trashy people." Photo: Erik Abderhalden

October 18, 2013

Health care is getting a lot of attention as people around the nation sign up for Obamacare this month. A conference in Pittsburgh this week will focus on health and how it’s affected by the environment.

Speakers from around the country will talk about everything from Love Canal to something called ecological medicine, and even trash.

One expert on his way to the Steel City is Pulitzer prize winning journalist Edward Humes. He spoke with The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant about his book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash.

Humes says the title, "...is a reference to the fact that Americans make more waste per capita than any other people on the planet, and any people in history. We’re big waste makers, or trashy people, you might say."

He explains, "The reason why I use the term 'love affair', is we seem to go out of our way to embrace disposable goods and products that create tremendous and often unnecessary amounts of waste. It's just part of the way we live now, and it seems normal to us."

Humes says Americans just don't think about what they're doing.

"We hate trash, but instead of finding ways to make less of it, we spend more and more money, and resources and energy, managing it. We don't call our trash companies waste eliminators or waste reducers, we have waste managers. It's kind of an absurd concept, if you think about it," he says.

Humes says we don't need so much waste. He gives the example of plastic supermarket bags. Where he lives, in Los Angeles, such bags were banned, and the city put a price tag on paper bags—10 cents. Humes says many people were mad at first, carrying the groceries by hand out of the store. But now most bring reusable bags to the market, and its significantly reduced the waste produced there.