But Austria recycles 70 percent of all garbage, and sends only 1 percent of it to landfills. Germany recycles 66 percent of its garbage, incinerates 34 percent, and sends 0 percent, none at all of it, to landfills. Well, how do they do this? Isn’t that a pretty important thing to figure out?

His conclusion is astoundingly weak. Humes says the encouraging thing about the garbage problem is that:

It’s one of the few big societal, economic, and environmental problems over which ordinary individual can exert control. You don’t have to fight City Hall to do it. You don’t have to organize protest or marches or phone bank or political action committees. As a consumer, as a homeowner or renter, as a person who eats and wars clothes and drinks water, you can choose to be more or less wasteful.

He urges us to buy less stuff, buy used goods, stop buying bottled water, and stop using plastic grocery bags.

I would note, for instance, that it became dramatically easier for me to remember to take reusable bags from home once the District of Columbia instituted a 5 cent tax on all plastic bags. But no need for that here: it’s all about just being a better personal environmentalist.

But personal mindfulness isn’t actually going to do much to address the fact that, as a country, we simply do not dispose of our waste properly. Despite Humes’s Pollyannaish insistence that it’s “in the consumer’s power” to fix the problem, the American garbage problem is actually a policy problem. And it’s going to continue to be a problem no matter how many people start using reusable water bottles.

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Daniel Luzer is web editor of the Washington Monthly.