May 29, 2023

Garbology: There’s more to waste management than rubbish

It is fair to say that the UK (and the rest of the world) has been experiencing some topsy-turvy weather, with storms one minute and a heatwave the next. These atypical weather patterns serve as a stark reminder of the perilous situation our planet is in. Hopefully this reminder will make it slightly less irritating that we have to use the numerous colour coded bins and to sort our rubbish, as now more than ever we all need to do our bit.

The time for paying lip-service to sustainability and adopting half-hearted measures has passed. Every person, business and household needs to take responsibility for disposing of their waste correctly and recycling whenever possible. If in doubt about how to dispose of hazardous substances, building or general household rubbish, furniture or any other type of waste, a reputable waste management service (such as G&S Clearance) will be able to advise you and provide a free quote.

Walley’s Landfill, Newcastle

A good example of the harm that can be caused by not following the rules / guidelines pertaining to the safe disposal of rubbish is the infamous Walley’s Landfill in Silverdale, Newcastle. A recent BBC Panorama documentary investigated the impact of the landfill on the local community. Emails provided by a whistleblower suggested that guidelines were ignored regarding the type of substances that are permitted to be dumped in the landfill and how they would react to the environment.  The obvious result has been long term serious ill-effects suffered by local residents.

So what does this have to do with garbology? The answer is everything… let’s start from the beginning.

What is garbology?

The phrase ‘garbology’ was cointed by US activist and writer A J Weberman to describe the process of going through folk singer Bob Dylan’s rubbish. In 1987 anthropologist William Rathje took garbology in a more serious ecological direction and it was considered to be a bona fide science. The initial study examined the contents of landfills in the US (The Tucson Garbage Project), looking at how the various waste elements reacted and affected the environment.

Also a number of respondents agreed to have their personal rubbish examined which was then compared with the answers provided on a questionnaire about their eating and drinking habits. Let’s just say, the results showed that the respondents considerably underestimated the amount they had consumed.

Waste management - capacity planning

Sticking with the USA, garbology is also useful when planning and allocating resources. For example, US garbologists also studied the types of rubbish discarded in the different states and how different types of rubbish can survive in different climates and the rate of natural biodegradation. This type of information provided crucial information for capacity planning for landfills and recycling plants in each region.

Studying people’s habits

Sifting through garbage, no matter how unpleasant, can provide a snapshot of a nation’s health and habits. There is no hiding the facts, what we use and discard provides a clear view of people’s lifestyles.

Public health

During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, US authorities wanted to know if condoms were being used, so they started monitoring the sewage plants to assess how many were being flushed down the lavatory. According to an article “How to spot patterns in people’s waste”, by Chris Baraniuk (published on the BBC website, May 2022) by 1988 they were finding between 200 and 400 every day!

The article also outlines the use of this method in a number of countries around the world. In Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, government officials were able to ascertain that the use of condoms had increased by 50% in 2006, as they were jamming up the sewage system.. Similarly an increase in the use of prophylactics in Zambia was catalogued in 2015, when the capital city’s sewers became clogged up with condoms.

Global landfills

Pullizer prize-winning journalist Edward Humes’ 2013 book “Garbology: Our dirty love affair with trash”, outlined how our rubbish travels around the world and enters the food chain. He also confirmed that around 69% of rubbish ends up in landfills and there is a growing trend of exporting rubbish generated in Western societies to countries on the other side of the world, like China. This is not a sustainable practice, as it involves long journeys and then we buy back what has been recycled, ready to turn into trash again.

You are what you eat

Another peril of sending our waste overseas is a greater likelihood that the rubbish can be lost or escape and pollute the environment.  The oceans are awash with plastic, tiny plankton size particles that are making their way into our food chain. It is reported that 35% of fish in the North Pacific Ocean have plastic particles in their stomach. According to Hume, we are eating our own waste via bioaccumulation.  

Recycle, recycle and recycle

One of the most effective ways of reducing the use of landfills and preventing pollutants from entering the food chain (human or animal), is to recycle whenever possible. G&S Clearance is committed to recycling 100% of all waste that is collected whenever possible. Any items that cannot be upcycled and given a second life of disposed of at regulated recycling plants to ensure that all elements are managed safely and efficiently within government guidelines

If you would like to know more about waste removal service in the Brighton and Hove area, please contact us at or visit the website

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