Common Reading Resources

UCF’s Office of First Year Experience has selected Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash as the inaugural Common Reading text for the 2014-2015 academic year. Below, you will find links to research guides, example assignments and activities, supplemental reading, videos and other resources that may help you to incorporate Garbology into your course.


Humes, E. (2013). Garbology: Our dirty love affair with trash. New York, NY: Penguin/Avery.

Library, Research, and Book Guides:

California State University Northridge. (2014). Garbology for faculty and staff: Talking about trash with students. Retrieved from

  • This webpage contains many resources for Garbology, including links to relevant books, articles, news stories, and garbage art creations; CSUN-specific resources; sample discussion questions, syllabi, and lesson plans; videos; and websites.

Marymount California University. (2014). Garbology: Our dirty love affair with trash. Retrieved from

  • This library guide contains many supplemental resources for reading and teaching Garbology, including a book summary, book reviews, video clips, links to interviews with the author, a list of “book tie-ins” organized by subject (see “Book Themes”), sample reading questions, and a list of relevant programs and events.

Sample Assignments, Activities, Syllabi, and Programs:

Baruch College School of Public Affairs Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Management. (n.d.). Case study 1: Solid waste management and environmental justice: Building and sustaining coalitions. Retrieved from

  • This case examines the continuing work of community-based organizations and public interest lawyers to promote equitable and environmentally sound solutions to waste handling in New York City. In addition to a description of the case, this case study packet contains a timeline of important events, an appendix of supporting documents, links to relevant advocacy organizations, and more.

Campell, A. (2007). The anthropology of trash. Retrieved from

  • This course syllabus contains a description of practices and field trips, as well as a list of readings, for a class titled “The Anthropology of Trash.”

Classroom Energy Diet Challenge. (2012). Track your trash. Retrieved from

  • This website contains two “Track Your Trash” lesson plans developed for k-12 classrooms. In this assignment, students track, measure and reduce the amount of garbage produced within their classroom over the course of one day. This activity is done twice to measure the differences that were made throughout a one-week or one-month period.

Davenport, S., FournierMoon, A., Mendoza, L., Peterson, C., & Taub, R. (n.d.). Found object art. Retrieved from

  • This two-day lesson plan of “found object art” is designed for students in grades 9-12. Students will learn about the concepts and principles behind art created with found objects through discussion and word association involving examples. Then they will learn about the process of planning for artworks by sketching found objects in a sculptural design and discussing how it could actually be assembled.

NatureBridge. (2014). Garbology for teachers. Retrieved from

  • This webpage contains garbology fact sheets, a “waste-less lunch” activity, and lessons for students in grades k-12.

Recology. (2014). About the Artist in Residence Program. Retrieved from

  • This website explains the Recology Artist in Residence Program, which is an “art and education program that provides Bay Area artists with access to discarded materials, a stipend, and a large studio space at the Recology Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center.” During the program, artists create pieces from garbage, deliver educational lectures to students and adults, and raise awareness about Recology’s three-bin system.

Schreiber, A., & Langendoen, D. (n.d.). Lesson 3: We recycle! Community Classroom. Retrieved from

  • This lesson plan complements the PBS documentary, “Garbage Dreams,” and is designed for students in grades 9-12. In this lesson, students will learn about the benefits of recycling as they apply math and science skills to learning about recycling in their communities. For more resources related to this lesson (including a game and additional lesson plans), visit the Garbage Dreams website.

Youth Service America. (2009). 55 environmental service-learning projects. Retrieved from

  • This list of environmental-themed service-learning projects includes many examples that relate to Garbology, including beach cleanups, bring your own grocery bag campaigns, composting projects, computer recycling drives, garage re-sale events, recycling programs, “reduce school cafeteria waste” initiatives, and trash audits.

Online Tools, Games, and Applications:

Life of Trash. (n.d.). A landfill near you. Retrieved from

  • This map application shows the locations of landfills and waste disposal sites in the local area. Faculty can pair this tool with an assignment that asks students to look at the distribution of income/race in the areas with landfills versus those without with a focus on environmental justice. Students can also examine the distribution patterns of landfills in relation to general population numbers and get an idea of trash transportation issues.

NatureBridge. (n.d.). My garbology. Retrieved from

  • This interactive online game teaches players about Garbology and answers the question, "Where should my waste go?" 

PBS Independent Lens. (2014). Garbage dreams game. Retrieved from

  • In this online game, players take on the role of the Zaballeen people living in Cairo, Egypt, and attempt to build a recycling empire within an eight-month time limit.

WasteMap Florida. (n.d.). WasteMap Florida. Retrieved from

  • This map displays the 733 facilities in the WasteMap system and contains a legend that classifies facilities based on their purpose (e.g., landfills, recycling centers, composting sites). Users can enter their zip code into a search bar and see all solid waste facilities within 25 miles.

Supplemental Reading:

Lee, D., Offenhuber, D., Biderman, A., & Ratti, C. (2014). Learning from tracking waste: How transparent trash networks affect sustainable attitudes and behavior. IEEE World Forum on Internet of Things (pp. 130-134). Seoul, Korea: IEEE. Retrieved from

  • Abstract from the authors: “Building on top of an experiment in tracking the movement of trash, we tested whether viewing this sensor data would change peoples’ sustainability attitudes and behaviors. We showed subjects real-time maps of trash tagged with networked GPS sensors, and surveyed them before and after seeing this information. Our results show that subjects did not significantly change their behavior in the long run, but they reported better understanding of where their trash went and how tracking technologies worked. Those who participated in deploying sensors reacted differently on some questions from those who had not volunteered. This study illustrates both limits and new opportunities for the Internet of Things to improve sustainability outreach and action at the grassroots level.”

Mervis, J. (2012). Garbology 101: Getting a grip on waste. Science, 337(6095), 668-672. doi: 10.1126/science.337.6095.668

  • Preview from Science Magazine: “Myriad contentious issues surround how waste is collected, processed, and ultimately disposed of in developed nations. Experts have varying views, for instance, on the best way to economically sift recyclables out of the municipal solid waste stream, the pros and cons of burning trash to produce electricity, and how to account for the hidden costs to a society of managing waste. Meanwhile, the once-radical idea of generating zero waste has shifted from the streets to corporate boardrooms, sparking further debate over whether such approaches will actually reduce global demand for important raw materials. The good news: Such discussions are prompting a closer look at what we throw away—and where it ends up.” This article also contains flowcharts and other visuals of concepts discussed.

Offenhuber, D., Lee, D., Wolf, M. I., Phithakkitnukoon, S., Biderman, A., & Ratti, C. (2012). Putting matter in place: Tradeoffs between recycling and distance in planning for waste disposal. Retrieved from

  • Partial abstract from the authors: “As waste removal chains grow increasingly complex, obtaining reliable information on the movement of trash becomes crucial but difficult. Lack of empirical knowledge about the spatial behavior of waste hampers design of effective recycling strategies. In particular, the movement and environmental impact of electronic and household hazardous waste are poorly understood. Our study investigates waste distances in an environmental, economic and geographic context, using novel methods to track municipal solid waste discarded in the city of Seattle….We show how existing models for waste emissions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Reduction Model, may underestimate the environmental impact of transportation by not accounting for very long trajectories that include multiple transport modalities.”

Offenhuber, D., Wolf, M. I., & Ratti, C. (2013). Trash track: Active location sensing for evaluating e-waste transportation. Retrieved from

  • Partial abstract from the authors: “Waste and recycling systems are complex and far-reaching, but its mechanisms are poorly understood by the public, in some cases government organizations and even the waste management sector itself. The lack of empirical data makes it challenging to assess the environmental impact of trash collection, removal and disposal. This is especially the case for the global movement of electronic wastes. Senseable City Lab’s Trash Track project tackles this scarcity of data by following the trajectories of individual objects….In this paper, the authors focus on the analysis of traces acquired from 146 items of electronic waste, estimating evaluating the environmental impact, including the travel distances and end-of-life treatments for the products. Combining this information with impact evaluation from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA_ Waste Reduction Model (WARM) allows for the creation of environmental impact profiles for individual pieces of trash.”

Phithakkitnukoon, S., Wolf, M. I., Offenhuber, D., Lee, D., Biderman, A., & Ratti, C. (2012). Tracking trash. Retrieved from

  • Abstract from the authors: “Using active self-reporting tags we were able to follow the journey of 2,000 objects through the waste management system of Seattle. We used this data to define measures of efficiency for what could be called the ‘removal chain.’ We found that over 95% of the traces reached a compliant end destination. However, there were concerns with special categories of waste (cellphones, e-waste, and household hazardous waste) and specific geographic locations (trash from Bellevue and Redmond in particular did not follow the recommended best practices). We believe that similar studies may increase knowledge and systemic performance of waste management systems and, at a personal level, reduce the ‘out of sight out of mind’ attitude to trash.”

Recology. (2010). Art at the dump: The Artist in Residence Program and Environmental Learning Center at Recology. Available from

  • This book documents the twenty-year history of the art and education program at San Francisco’s garbage and recycling company. Art at the Dump presents profiles of the seventy-eight artists who have participated in the program since its founding, and provides reproductions of their artwork.

Rybczynski, W. (1992, July 5). We are what we throw away. The New York Times: Archives. Retrieved from

  • This overview of Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage describes the “garbage project” undertaken by authors William Rathje and Cullen Murphy. In addition, Rybczynski summarizes some of the “half-truths, misperceptions and incomplete knowledge” we hold about garbage.

Science Magazine. (2012). Working with waste. Retrieved from

  • This webpage contains brief descriptions and links to articles featured in the 2012 special issue of Science Magazine titled “Working with Waste.” Articles include “Garbology 101: Getting a Grip on Waste,” “Modern-Day Waste Pickers, “Finding a New Way to Go,” and more.

Seldman, N. (2013). Garbology: Our dirty love affair with trash. BioCycle. Retrieved from

  • This book review of Garbology describes Edward Hume’s unbalanced coverage of “burn and bury” waste disposal and recycling facts by emphasizing the economic and social factors surrounding these two movements. Seldman concludes: “Because of Garbology’s uneven treatment of its subject, the book will likely remain a curiosity to veteran recyclers and solid waste planners. For those new to the fascinating world of garbage, many sections of the book are often simultaneously good, bad and naïve. For a balanced view of the garbage issue, novice readers will need to consult other works.”

Video and Audio Content:

Arthus-Bertrand, Y. (n.d.). Home (trailer) English. Retrieved from

  • This website features a trailer for the film Home by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Through visually stunning footage from over fifty countries, all shot from an aerial perspective, Yann Arthus–Bertrand shows us a view most of us have never seen. He shares with us his sense of awe about our planet and his concern for its health. The website also contains a complementary teaching guide for the film, HOME Education.

MIT SENSEable City Lab. (2009). Track Track. Retrieved from

  • This brief video summarizes SENSEable City Lab’s Trash Track project and shares a time-lapsed animation of the path of tagged waste items across the United States.

MIT SENSEable City Lab. (n.d.). Forage Tracking. Retrieved from

  • This brief video summarizes SENSEable City Lab’s Forage Tracking project and shares an animation of the various recycling collection travel routes used by the Catadores.

National Public Radio. (2012, April 26). Following garbage’s long journey around the Earth. Fresh Air. Retrieved from

  • This webpage contains a recording of Terry Gross’s interview with Edward Humes and a recap of the interview highlights.

PBS. (2013, January 25). San Francisco on track to become zero waste city. Retrieved from

  • Summary from PBS NewsHour: “San Francisco is trying to become the first city with zero waste. By requiring residents and businesses to separate compostable items such as food scraps, as well as recyclable items, NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports that the city has already reduced a huge amount of garbage from ending up in landfills.”

The UW Garbology Project. (n.d.). Videos. Retrieved from

  • This webpage hosts a collection of garbology-themed videos from around the web.

Other Resources:

Johnson, B. (n.d.). Tips. Zero Waste Home. Retrieved from

  • Bea Johnson shares her family’s top ten tips (in eight categories, such as the kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and office) for creating a zero waste home. For other posts, visit the main blog at

NatureBridge. (2014). Garbology resources. Retrieved from

  • This webpage describes and links to external resources of facts used on the site, which are organized by the type of waste (e.g., banana peels, plastic water bottles, plastic bags).

The UW Garbology Project. (n.d.). Recommended reading. Retrieved from

  • This list of recommended reading describes five books: Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash; Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage; Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage; Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago; and Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash.

Washington State University Office of Undergraduate Education. (2014). WSU common reading. Retrieved from

  • This website contains an overview of Washington State University’s Common Reading Program. Like UCF, they have also selected Garbology as their common reading text for the 2014 academic year.

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