Climate change more about what's wasted than what's used, author says

Edward Humes says transportation needs to be addressed to save the world.

April 4, 2024, 3:45 PM

Edward Humes illuminates the fate of the world's daily waste in his new book, "Total Garbage: How We Can Fix Our Waste and Heal Our World."

His book emphasizes how people and communities positively impact health, prosperity, quality of life and the fight against climate change.

Humes not only provides solutions for waste reduction, but also emphasizes the significant roles people can play as individuals in creating a cleaner future, empowering us with the knowledge that our actions matter.

Humes, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, identified transportation as the most wasteful thing that needs to be addressed quickly.

He sat down with ABC News Live to discuss his book and how we can save our world.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Have you ever wondered what happens to the trash we produce each day? Why are our oceans becoming increasingly polluted with plastic? And did you know that a significant portion of the food we waste could feed millions?

In his new book, 'Total Garbage How We Can Fix Our Waste and Heal Our World,' Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes investigates how waste is embedded in our daily lives and reveals how it drives major environmental, health and economic crises. Humes also offers solutions by showing us how waste is not inevitable, and the roles we can play in creating a cleaner, greener future.

Joining us now is Edward Humes. Sir, good to see you. Thanks for taking the time to be with us tonight. Just off the bat, I'm curious why this topic now.

EDWARD HUMES: Well, so, it's based on an earlier book I did that focuses on what we throw away. And, for this book, I looked at the larger question: What if many of the environmental problems that we're facing -- plastic pollution, climate change, energy crisis -- really came down to one kind of arch villain, waste, as the driving force behind them. And that's really the basic premise of this book.

ABC NEWS LIVE: 'Total Garbage' opens with a pretty stark statement. And we'll quote it for you. 'You swallowed 285 pieces of plastic today. You will do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next.' Talk about the pervasive nature, if you will, of plastic pollution and the impact it has on our daily lives.

HUMES: Yeah. I mean, the World Wildlife Study suggests they were eating about a credit card a week, credit cards worth of plastic.

ABC NEWS LIVE: A credit card.

HUMES: alarming, right?

PHOTO:  A chart showing the waste in America made.
A chart showing the waste in America made.
ABC News Illustration

ABC NEWS LIVE: You write that there are various health effects linked to plastic toxins, including, and we'll quote this again, 'infertility, sexual dysfunction in adults, impaired physical and intellectual development in children, high blood pressure, weakened immune systems and a variety of cancers.' Obviously alarming findings. But what steps can we take to minimize our exposure to these kind of plastic toxins?

HUMES: Well, it's not the plastics, it's not the entire universe of plastics, that's the problem. It is the disposable plastics. And here you have this material that's filled with chemicals. It's a fossil fuel product. And it lasts forever. Nature really can't absorb it. Bacteria don't eat it. It's not like a natural substance. It's the first and largest synthetic substance we have in our daily lives.

And making a disposable product out of a forever piece of waste is kind of insane. And that's why we had so much trouble recycling it. Because it's really not designed to be recycled well. And that's actually the smallest part of our waste problem that I was focusing on this book.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Right. I mean, in the book, in addition to plastic, your book explores various forms of waste, food to energy, to fashion. Which do you see is the most urgent to address and why?

HUMES: The most wasteful thing we do is transportation. And I have to tell you this, these fuel efficiency miles per gallon ratings are kind of a greenwash, really. They're not telling us what we need to know. If you want to understand how your cars really work for $4 out of every $5 you pay at the pump is wasted. It goes to making heat, not movement of the car. And basically from if this is and a point of view, it is, like a furnace on wheels. That's just one example. Our energy systems waste 67% of our energy. So two-thirds of your electric bill goes to waste. And that's what's driving climate change. It's not what we use as much as what we waste that's killing us.

ABC NEWS LIVE: All right. Edward Humes, thanks so much for taking the time to talk about it. 'Total Garbage: How We Can Fix Our Waste and Heal Our World" is now available to purchase wherever books are sold.

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