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Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
When I purchased this book, I thought it might add to my store of trivia knowlege, sort of a fun little look at something most of us never think about. I expected to describe it with words like "nifty." This book was not what I expected, and I'm glad.

This book was an engrossing discussion of how the nature and quantity of consumer garbage (as opposed to industrial waste) has changed. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution and moving up through today, this book considers the ways in which government policy and the corporate profit motive create a socity in which garbage - lots and lots of garbage - is inevitable, and why even the best-intentioned efforts at recycling barely make a dent in the mountain of trash.

I have a professional background in economics, and so I got a great deal out of some of Rogers' arguements that were based in economic theory. However, her simple, straightforward style makes it easy for anyone to follow her reasoning.

The subtitle, The Hidden Life of Garbage, was misleading. Perhaps a better subtitle might have been The History and Social Implications of Garbage. Although that sounds a bit scholarly, this book, while extremely well researched, did not read at all like a textbook. Rather it was an approachable discussion of why garbage occurs and why the current solutions are not working.

A must-read for anyone who cares about planet Earth, whether they are chaining themselves to trees or just recycling their soda can!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In this incredibly well researched and clearly written social history of rubbish, Rogers does 3 things (at least).

1. Denormalizes waste: It is a serious myth that the garbage we live with and create today has always existed. This historical presentation shows us the ways in which people had to be TAUGHT to waste.

2. Teaches the concept of Political Economy through the lens of something that we all touch but rarely think about. There is a flawed logic that organizes our production and consumption patterns and I have never understood it so well than through Rogers tale-telling.

3. Implicates the industrial Producers and their accompanying PR machines as the primary perpetrators - not the litter-bug consumers that we've all been taught to blame.

(Plus the book taught me about 10 synonyms for garbage that I never knew existed. )

"The Golden Age of Waste" is by far the most enlightening chapter in the book. The rest of the chapters successfully sandwich this middle chapter to help us make sense of the economic, historical and cultural logic's that have created the trash that surrounds us today. The critique of corporate green-washing is also particularly helpful for anyone who is slightly suspicious of the re-branding efforts that have reconfigured the public face of many corporations in the last 20 years but not erased any of their polluting tendencies.

I have not read a book in a long time that actually found such relevance in my daily life. Garbage: you see it, live with it and make decisions about it every single day - so it is mandatory to finally have this tool kit to help us understand how it got into our collective lives.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Every now and then a book or two comes along that makes me want to get on the phone to friends or email friends to tell them they must read the book. This happened this past week when Gone Tomorrow the Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers arrived at my cottage.

We are a homeschooling family who as a project spent a year looking at what we buy and why and what happens to what we put out for recycling and refuge pick up, as well as what gets flushed or composted. So this book became part of our curriculum. In less than three months our water usage dropped 60%, and the garbage can went from being overflowing to being placed out once a month and then with very little in it. Am now considering cancelling the service when the contract is up. And going in with three other neighbors and combining what little we all have and sharing the cost.

Recently someone asked me why we don't put our recycling bins out or rarely put the garbage container out and we had to explain that just because we have them doesn't mean we have to fill them and put them out every week. And this is where the book is so on target when talking about how there is a downsize to the whole recycling area. It is one of those things that came about because of good intentions, but hasn't helped stop people from actually buying stuff. Also in target is how the author says that often the recyclable get dumped in with the regular trash pick up because there is no local market for the items. This is what we discovered one morning when we saw the garbage truck picking up the recycling bins and garbage at the same time, not separately. Even more so now that gas prices have gone up and garbage companies cant raise prices so they dump everything at once. So we simply save the glass and what aluminum items we have and make a run to the real recycling center where we also make some extra money.

Much like I did as a kid when I would eagerly walk the roads on the island we lived on in summer to gather up the cans and bottles the tourists left behind, to turn in for money.

The author also does a great job in explaining how packaging of products is overdone, but also done because we live in a highly suit happy society. So having that extra foil safety cap on a bottle of pills, or secure bag around the lettuce raise the cost of items as well as add to landfills. Around here Styrofoam has to be put out with regular garbage not with recyclables. Same with those pesky popcorn packing things.

On page 207 the author writes about an area in Oakland, California where the Batcave garden sits. While it may not be for everyone there is enough helpful can do information from this group that most Americans could adopt that would cut down drastically on what they buy and then what they discard. Heck most Americans would do better with less lawn to cut and more vegetables being planted that could save on food costs as well on garbage since edibles are compostable.

The author provides so much information on the big business that garbage is and how the costs get passed on to us in ways we often do not see. From increased food prices, to hidden fees for getting rid of items.

Was especially pleased to see on page 210 the group Freecycle mentioned, since I belong to my local Freecycle group and love the attitude that rather than dump something why not see if there is someone locally who can use the item. To find a group near you go to their internet site which is Freecycle.org

Also loved seeing where Berkeley's Urban One was mentioned. They have a license to glean items from the city's dump that are useable, and then the items are taken to Eco Park where they are sold, for a profit. There is a similar place in Sonora east of Angles Camp that I go to that does the same thing. Some areas have twice yearly pick ups where you can set anything from furniture to appliances out for pick up. We visit these areas and gather items that we can use or give to others in need. Its a shame that Americans are so obese in so many ways, and throw out such useable items.

So I recommend this book for anyone who wants a mature education on garbage and what we can and should do to reduce the amount we produce. Its not good enough to simply preach a use and recycle mantra.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In my archaeology class we learned about the importance of the village midden, or garbage pile, in determining the culture and practices of the people inhabiting that village. On that basis, future archaeologists are going to have a heyday trying to figure out our current civilization.

Gone Tomorrow, the Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers is fascinating and depressing at the same time. There are fascinating tidbits such as the idea that garbage is a relatively recent invention, that less than 300 years ago it would have been unthinkable to consign so much of our production to the trash heap so soon after it is produced. Before mass production and mass marketing, items were produced to be repaired and reused again and again and slogans such as "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" were common. There wasn't anything to throw away as even scraps of cloth became part of a quilt or rug.

There are horrifying descriptions of garbage dumps such as Rikers Island:

"The rats became so numerous and so large that the department imported dogs in an effort to eliminate the rats... there were more than one hundred dogs on the island, dogs which were never fed by authorities but lived solely on these rats."

"Gases... were constantly exploding, erupting through the soil covering and busting into flames. ... When a hot spell would come along in the summer, the ground resembled a sea of small volcanoes, all breathing smoke and flames."

Another disturbing idea brought out by Rogers is that the trucks that pick up your garbage and your recyclables may be dumping them into the same landfill because recycling often just isn't economically sustainable. But it's politically impossible to cut back the appearance of recycling.

There are also some distractions in the book as when the author claims the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign was modeled after a later series of clean-up efforts by Ladybird Johnson. I'm not sure how you model something after something that comes later.

The book definitely has a pro-environment, anti-business, distrust of government bias to it. In spite of that, it is an interesting and enlightening book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book has had a profound effect on my growing enlightenment about sustainability. Heather Rogers traces the history of waste disposal, from the days when everything was used and re-used (and then scavenged and used again), to the dawn of mass production and organized waste disposal, where there is little if any economic incentive to minimize manufacturing waste. She argues convincingly that our consumerist economy is literally built on trash. If you think global warming and altered ocean chemistry are legitimate threats to our childrens' futures, then you should add this book to your must-read list.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book came after the documentary by the same name (same writer), but it is not intended to be a companion piece. This work is self explanatory, and it packs quite a punch without lots of scenes of waste.

The author goes into some detail about the history of garbage and how the science of waste management came into being. In doing so, she discusses the economics involved and explains how waste is a fairly new phenomenon, as prior generations reused waste or repaired broken things. The author quotes Karl Marx a lot, and readers may be turned off as we equate him with communism. However, the comments cited here seem to hit squarely on the mark.

She also discusses the politics and lobbying involved in dealing with waste. Without a doubt, we are a wasteful culture. Everything is designed to be thrown out and replaced. As a result, we are slowly wasting our resources and burying ourselves (and third-world countries) in our trash. This is the part of the book that hits the strongest.

I would highly recommend reading this book. It draws attention to our need to start paying attention to what we are doing. Maybe we do need to rethink the way we do things.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The U.S. is the top producer of garbage on the planet, generating 30% of the world's trash and throwing out 1600 pounds per American per year - but what happens to garbage after it's in the trash? GONE TOMORROW: THE HIDDEN LIFE OF GARBAGE focuses on the answers to this question, providing journalist Heather Rogers' history of rubbish handling from the 1800s to modern times and reviewing the politics and social issues revolving around trash management policies. Technological transformations affected the nature and quantity of household garbage, postwar innovations handled more volume, and industry changes changed the nature and motivation of cartels handling garbage: GONE TOMORROW explores all these facets and more.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Garbage seems to experience a pretty dull and predictable life cycle. We might discard a fast food wrapper in our garbage can thinking nothing of its short trip to the local land fill, but the life of trash is writhe with complexities. As author Heather Rogers shows in Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage trash has historically been a focal point of social struggles and environmental disasters. Gone Tomorrow explains the origins of our current perceptions of garbage as well as the tumultuous series of events that formed our current attitudes.

Exposing the powerful social undercurrents that have historically been tied to how society disposes of its wastes, Rogers moves through various eras in the United States showing the progression (or lack their of) of garbage disposal. Gone Tommorow's detailed history of rejectamenta provides a vivid explanation as to how deeply connected our lives are to our refuse. While we typically think of garbage as something we can simply dispose of and forget, Rogers shows that the lengthy tenure of our rejected goods proves otherwise.

Gone Tomorrow transitions smoothly from an explanation of our garbage past and sets the stage for discussion of our future. Rogers takes a critical look at previous efforts to curb waste and blocked attempts at source reduction. Gone Tomorrow avoids coming off as overly preachy and instead examines methods that have been used to successfully to manage wastes. Overall Gone Tomorrow sets the stage for more candid discussion of waste management and provides the reader with a quick primer on how garbage is handled in the United States.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It's not something about which we want to think, but it's out there: garbage.

I don't know what I was expecting from this book, but it fell a little short. Not that the subject isn't interesting, and the images described aren't disgusting and thought-provoking, but this ended-up a history of the economics surrounding the creation of garbage: which is interesting, just not expected.

Still, this is a recommended book. You'll never look at garbage the same way again...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This book is honest and what I mean by that is that it looks at the impacts of waste and concepts to remove it. Some might suggest that recycling works but that is not always the case because if the industry does not purchase recycled products then it just creates a sub industry. There are not that many books that will admit that a given product can only be recycled a given number of times (plastics are referenced in it).

The book could use a bit more updating because it does not mention other aspects but that might simply be due to size constraints. For example when it references ewaste it does not fully explain that some major retailers offer recycling. Infact with given commodity prices some might actually pay people to take it away. The book does drop the ball a bit on RoHS. The RoHS concept of course attempts to eliminate lead from electronics but this is controversial as the replacements for it do not always conduct power the same way. This has resulted in the so called "red ring of death" with Microsoft Xbox 2 as well as created higher prices which some might argue are a form of class warfare.

It does note that solutions for problems create their own problems. Horses as a means of transit meant animal wastes all over the place. Cars replaced that with their own wastes. Likewise we should be careful that we do not have future issues. Incandescant light bulbs are horrid in terms of power consumption as most of the output is not in light but as heat. LED's produce much less heat and last longer but if it is used as a traffic light during the winter it can be rendered useless.
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