Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, April 28, 2023

Total Garbage: A Messy Dive Into Trash, Waste, and Our World by Rebecca Donnelly

Total Garbage: A Messy Dive Into Trash, Waste, and Our World
Rebecca Donnelly; Illustrated by John Hendrix
Henry Holt and Company. 2023

We have reviewed other titles that deal with the ever growing problem of trash, but in Total Garbage, writer Donnelly goes one step further by challenging how the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” has given us a false sense of hope. Donnelly looks at how much trash we make and how it damages our world, and affects all of us. 

What readers will find compelling, was in the author’s note. Donnelly admits that with her busy life, she is also part of the problem. She didn’t write Total Garbage as a template as to how to live a life trash-free. Instead, she offers facts that will help readers make choices. Donnelly delves deeply into what is trash, where does it go after we toss it into our trash bins, what does recycle really mean, the affects of our trash on our planet, and how shoppers are lured into thinking they are creating less waste by purchasing items that claim that their packaging is recyclable. Donnelly also differentiates between saving the wilderness versus environmental action regarding neighborhoods near pollution sources. Wilderness is a place you visit, whereas pollution sources are where people live. “For people who live near pollution sources, environmentalism is a very personal commitment with immediate consequences in everyday life and in their own communities.”

Ideas that resonated with me?:

  • During World War 2, it was patriotic to save and reuse until 1955. Now, it is considered patriotic to buy more stuff to keep all the manufacturing plants, created during WW2, operational. 
  • That recycling has serious environmental issues. 
  • The problems with landfills.
  • That buying anything that is single use, even if it says it is made from recyclable materials, is still trash.
  • That for many, reducing waste and purchasing is a financial burden they are unable to take on. Products that are marketed as green often cost more, making it almost impossible for many to purchase them.

Total Garbage would be a terrific title to use in a science unit with middle to high school students. An activity that sounds eye-opening is to build an image of yourself by taking a good look at what you throw away. 

Included is a Trash Timeline: The Good and the Gross in the History of Waste Management, selected resources, and index. 

The engaging narrative, packed with lots of easily understood information on waste and its impact on our world, is highly recommended, especially for Earth Day.


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