Originally posted on 02 Sep 2023

2 minute read

For many years I’ve been evolving my lifestyle toward one of less waste and more sustainability. Because of that, Year of No Garbage (or YONG, as Schaub calls it) is very much preaching to the choir. This means that many of the revelations in the book are old news to me, but that doesn’t make that news any less valuable.

While the book is about how Schaub and her family spent a year (during the COVID-19 pandemic, no less) trying very hard not to create garbage, the overwhelming majority of the book focuses on plastic, its prevalence, and on the options for getting rid of it. It’s no spoiler to reveal that there is no good option for getting rid of it. Plastic is, for all intents and purposes, immortal. Yes, even the plant-based “compostable” types. The toothbrush you wore out and threw away when you were five? Still exists. Those shoes you’re wearing? Will probably outlive humanity. Yes, this is very much the problem it sounds like and Schaub brings the receipts to prove it.

Because of this focus on plastic, the first two elements of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle receive very little attention. There are a few passing mentions, along with some about “the best way not to create waste is not to buy things in the first place,” but nearly all of the book focuses on The Plastic Problem. That’s not a strike against the book. On the contrary; Schaub does a very good job of presenting the complexities of this problem, along with some well-researched suggestions for how to address it. I mention it simply to set some expectations should you decide to read the book (and I hope you will).

Another expectation to set, and one that is a strike against the book (albeit a small one), is that much of the journey documented here comes from a place of privilege but this is never really addressed or acknowledged. $400 composter? OK! Hundreds for a swanky bidet? Sure! Buy a high-tech ozone laundry attachment? Why not? Hundreds of dollars to mail waste away to a company that claims to recycle it? Worth it to assuage guilt! Nearly every no-waste “solution” the family gets to try is expensive and out of reach of most budgets, and in many cases difficult to acquire even then. Schaub does discuss how most plastic manufacturing and disposal lands in underprivileged areas of the nation and the world, but never seems to take that next step of acknowledging that as hard as it is for her family to go no-waste, it’s even more impossible for nearly everyone else.

Though this topic is important enough that most people (especially legislators) should read it, like most such books I suspect it won’t reach too many more than those who are already inclined toward environmentalism. Which, also as usual, is a shame. Schaub’s first hand experiences and relentless hours of research paint a vivid and horrifying picture of the trap we’ve built for ourselves and of which more people need to become aware.