Garbage Is Now America’s Biggest Export

April 29th, 2012, by

Well that’s the most depressing thing I’ve read all week. Still, if everyone in America read Edward Humes’ new book, Garbology, we might be able to begin to curb our nation’s world-leading addiction to throwing things away.

From literal mountains of methane-emitting refuse outside of Los Angeles, to the massive gyres of plastic bits that are spreading across the world’s oceans, Pulitzer-winner Humes shines a light on humankind’s dirtiest secret: our garbage.

Among his most surprising findings, from the LA Times:

America’s biggest export is trash — the scrap paper and metal we throw away. The Chinese buy it, make products out of it, sell them back to us at enormous profit, and we turn it into trash again. America, the country that once made things for the world, is now China’s trash compactor.

The average American community spends more on waste management than fire protection, libraries, parks and recreation and textbooks.

Things are much worse than the official stats suggest. The EPA, which publishes our annual “trash bible” of municipal waste statistics, uses an outdated method that vastly underestimates our waste and overestimates our recycling.

The situation is pretty bad, as you might imagine after reading those statements. But there are things we can all do. Like, for instance, throwing less stuff in the trash. You can read more from Humes in his recent editorial on

Last modified: April 30, 2012 at 1:30 pm