Hope Armstrong
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8 Favorite Sustainability Books

Last weekend, as I read the final pages of Garbage Land, it was bittersweet. I had taken my time reading the book slowly over a month or so, reading a few pages each night in bed before passing out. I took down the final 100 pages on a Saturday morning, which felt like a mix of accomplishment and sadness (“oh no, it’s over!” and also “what will I read next?!”). It was my favorite book on sustainability yet, which was surprising given I had found it by randomly deciding to search “zero waste” in my library’s catalog. Noting the age of the book (15 years!), I didn’t have high hopes that it would be relevant. But it was so thorough and personable that it drew me in. As it turns out, waste processes haven’t changed that dramatically. Reflecting back on the related books I’ve read, I figured I’d share my favorites as well as my list of books I want to read next. Do you have any favorites? Let me know!

Eight favorite sustainability books

(in no particular order)

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte

Thoroughly researched and full of vibrant details, Royte takes you along with her as she tracks down where her waste goes. From recycling facilities to water treatment plants, she leaves no stone unturned. I love how she infused lots of data alongside personal anecdotes and humor. Written in 2005, this book is fairly dated but a lot of concepts still ring true to present day. Garbage Land book

101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg

Written by the author of the popular blog Going Zero Waste, 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste is a beginner-friendly introduction to a lower waste lifestyle. With 101 tips on a wide range of topics, there are plenty of inspiration points for living more sustainably. 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste book

A Life Less Throwaway: The Lost Art of Buying for Life by Tara Button

As the old adage goes, “things just aren’t built like they used to be.” Button reminds us to reflect on the value of our possessions and to factor in the longevity of a product before purchasing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of forces at play that lead us to buying things with short lifespans, but a few brands get it right. Check out her website BuyMeOnce for recommendations. A Life Less Throwaway book

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders

Beautifully written, Flanders had me gripped from start to finish. I love how she shared her lived experience while weaving in the insights she discovered along the way. Caught in a consumerist trap, she was becoming more unhappy. By trimming down her possessions and reducing her purchases, she was able to rediscover herself. The Year of Less book

Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry

Possibly the most thorough book on zero waste living. I got a lot of information out of this book and found it to be practical and relatable. After hearing good things about Terry in my local SF Bay Area zero waste community, I picked this book up from the library and wasn’t disappointed. (Terry used to live nearby in Oakland) Plastic-Free book

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

Packed with research by leading scientists, Drawdown ranks 100 most effective solutions to climate change. This is an in-depth look at climate solutions, some of which are quite surprising. Spoiler: who knew that refrigeration has a huge impact on the environment? Each solution is presented quite practically, with estimated impacts and steps needed. It’s a dense read; this is something you’ll likely want to flip through and use for reference vs. reading it front-to-back. Drawdown book

This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World by Yancey Strickler

While not focused on environmental issues, it touches on the ways in which a wealth-obsessed society has lead to environmental collapse. Strickler details the ways in which Americans need to redefine success by acting for the greater collective instead of in our own self-interest. He reframes how abundance should be defined, which is at the heart of the environmental movement. This Could Be Our Future book

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Written by Bea Johnson, a leader in the zero waste movement, this is another good beginner-friendly overview of sustainable low waste swaps. Organized by rooms in a house, Johnson provides tips and advice. The tone is straightforward and to-the-point and includes some interesting anecdotes about her life pre- and post- zero waste living. Zero Waste Home book

Want to read

Here’s a growing list of books I’m eager to read next.

  • Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It
  • Door-to-Door
  • Cradle-to-Cradle
  • This Changes Everything
  • Silent Spring
  • Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide To Liberation Of The Land
  • Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
  • The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities and Our Health -And a Vision for Change
  • Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
  • Less Stuff
  • Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.
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