Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00

Wasted

How We Squander Time, Money, and Natural Resources-and What We Can Do About It

Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00
Wasted is a riveting exploration of the complicated, and often surprising, ways that waste occurs in our businesses, our communities, and our lives

“A smart, unconventional book that takes readers far beyond what they think they know about a complex subject.”—Kari Byron, former cast member of MythBusters


Waste. We spend a great deal of energy trying to avoid it, but once you train your eyes to look for it, you’ll see it all around you—in your home, your business, and your everyday life.
 
In Wasted, futurist Byron Reese and entrepreneur Scott Hoffman take readers on a fascinating journey through this modern world of waste, drawing on science, economics, and human behavior to envision what a world with far less of it—or none of it at all—might look like. Along the way, they explore thought-provoking issues such as
 
• why the United States got a higher proportion of its energy from renewable sources in 1950 than it does today 
• whether the amount of gold in unused mobile phones can be extracted for profit
• how switching to water fountains on a single route from Singapore to Newark could prevent the use of 3,400 plastic bottles—on each flight
• whether the amount of money you save buying goods in bulk is offset by the amount you lose when some spoil.
 
Ultimately, the question of reducing waste is scientific, philosophical, and, most of all, complex. According to Reese and Hoffman, the rush toward simple answers has often led to well-meaning efforts that cause more waste than they save. The only way we can hope to make progress is to treat waste as the complicated issue it is. 
 
While the authors don’t promise easy answers, in this compelling book they take an important step toward solutions by examining the questions at play, giving actionable steps, and ensuring that you’ll never see the world of waste the same way again.
Byron Reese is an Austin-based entrepreneur with a quarter century of experience building and running technology companies. He is a recognized authority on AI and holds a number of technology patents. In addition, Reese is a futurist with a strong conviction that technology will help bring about a new golden age of humanity. He has written three books on technology, the most recent of which was described by The NewYork Times as “entertaining and engaging.” 
 
Scott Hoffman is the CEO of International Literary Properties and one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Management. He lives in Austin.
Waste and Our Planet

In a Million Years, They Will Know Us by Our Polystyrene Foam

In a million years, humanity as we know it will be long gone. No matter your philosophy, cosmology, or theology, we won’t be here. We might have evolved into Homo somethingelsius, uploaded ourselves to computers, or augmented ourselves into androids. We might have succumbed to an ecological catastrophe, blown ourselves into oblivion, or been hit by an asteroid; we might have been wiped out by Wolf-­Rayet star WR 104, which will have gone supernova by then, or abandoned this planet and gone to the stars ourselves. Or we might have been overthrown by a band of intelligent apes with a charismatic leader named Caesar, or any of a hundred other outcomes. But rest assured, we won’t be here in any way that resembles our lives today.

However, the polystyrene foam cup you drank hot coffee from this morning will still be here, buried somewhere, probably still quite recognizable, even usable.

Saturn’s rings will have vanished. Polaris will no longer be the North Star, and the night sky will look entirely different, missing the Big Dipper, Orion, and the rest of the gang. But that white foam cup will still be around. For an item whose useful life is measured in minutes, that’s pretty impressive.

But the story of that cup, its origin and destiny, is a bit more complicated than that simple narrative. So let’s take Lewis Carroll’s advice and begin at the beginning, with an organic compound called styrene, which has the chemical formula C6H5CH=CH2. It’s a liquid that is manufactured from petroleum in great quantity—­roughly thirty million tons of the stuff a year. It can be used to make latex or synthetic rubber, but most often it’s polymerized into polystyrene, a plastic.

Polystyrene, in turn, can be made into all kinds of hard plastic items, like the housing for your smoke alarm or your silverware tray. It can also be heated to boiling, which makes it expand to forty times its original size, turning it into expanded polystyrene foam, or EPS. Expanded forty-­fold, EPS is about 97 percent air, making it an excellent insulator and cushioning material, and therefore ideal for certain applications, such as disposable coolers, food takeout containers, packing peanuts, and the aforementioned coffee cup.

In this form, EPS is colloquially referred to as Styrofoam, but that’s not technically accurate. Styrofoam is a trade name for a product made by DuPont, which is made of XPS—­that is, extruded, not expanded—­polystyrene. Real McCoy Styrofoam is used in construction, not in single-­use applications. The folks at DuPont really don’t like people using their product name in a generic fashion to apply to a different kind of product. They go so far as to maintain a page on their website called “Styrofoam is not a cup” that explains that it is EPS that is used to make cups and containers—­a technology completely different from real-­deal Styrofoam.

EPS has been cast as the villain of our throwaway culture for quite some time. McDonald’s, for instance, announced its intention to stop using foam packaging way back in 1990. Since then, while EPS is never explicitly depicted as laughing maniacally while twirling its mustache, its villainy is assumed.

Its list of character flaws is damning. It doesn’t biodegrade, but it does degrade when exposed to light, entering the food chain and killing animals. It can’t be easily recycled. Worse, recyclers hate it because when EPS gets broken up in the recycling stream, it contaminates other items, making it impossible to recycle them at all. Even if EPS could be economically recycled, it is frequently covered in food, complicating matters. It weighs so little that it gets blown into the ocean, it clogs up drainpipes, and both its manufacture and its destruction are often bad for the environment.

Because EPS is mostly air, and because the world uses so much of it—­around 15 million tons annually—­the volume of EPS we produce is immense. Some estimates peg the volume of landfills taken up by EPS at as much as 30 percent, although other estimates suggest a smaller number. EPS’s volume also gives us less incentive to recycle it. A semi-­trailer loaded with aluminum—­well, you can put your kid through college with that. But a truckload of EPS is pretty much a truckload of air with a little plastic sprinkled in. It’s not worth the fuel it takes to get it to a recycling plant. So hated is EPS that it has been declared a material non grata and banned in many countries around the world, as well as a plethora of cities and states in the United States.

And yet, like many charming movie antiheroes, EPS does have virtues, at least compared to alternative forms of packaging. It requires fewer resources to make, and its high strength-­to-­weight ratio makes it less expensive to ship compared to other alternatives, which saves on energy use and CO2 emissions. For the purposes it is usually used for—­insulating food, packing electronics, and so on—­there are few materials that work as well, and none at the very low price of EPS. These virtues are meaningful, and all true. But the criticisms of EPS are also true, or at least partly true.

Let’s dig deeper into a few. First, does EPS degrade? In a landfill, not really. But of course, very little does. Landfills keep out light, which is EPS’s great nemesis. But when floating in the ocean, yes, it does break down. And when the polymer EPS breaks back down into the monomer styrene, it can do damage to the ecosystem. It crumbles, so the pieces can end up getting ingested by aquatic animals.

Can EPS be recycled? As mentioned earlier, yes, but . . . Its denser cousin, just plain ol’ polystyrene (not expanded), is recyclable. You might see the recycling code 6 stamped on the underside of polystyrene items, like plastic cups. In the United States, more than a hundred businesses do recycle EPS—­but most don’t want to deal with it. The logistical issues of transport and contamination can be solved, but doing so generally costs more than the recycled material is worth. And since it’s a fossil fuel byproduct, the value of secondary production (recycling) is as volatile as the price of oil.

Thus, whether EPS will ever be recycled at scale is still an open issue. New York famously banned EPS in 2013. The city was promptly sued, and in 2015 the ban was temporarily put on hold while the economic viability question was studied. In 2017 the city released a report called “Determination on the Recyclability of Food-­Service Foam” and found that “Food-­Service Foam compacts in collection trucks, breaks into bits, and becomes covered in food residue, making it worthless when it arrives at the material recovery facility (‘MRF’). It then blows throughout the MRF, is missed by manual sorters, mistakenly moves with the paper material and contaminates other valuable recycling streams, namely paper, which can be the most consistently valuable commodity in a recycling program.” The report’s conclusion was that EPS could not be recycled economically. A judge in the case found the New York study to be compelling, and ultimately allowed the ban to become law.

Are bans the right answer? EPS proponents argue that bans are fundamentally counterproductive and driven by politics. It’s easier for a politician to look like an environmental hero, they argue, than to do the hard work of getting curbside recycling of EPS into place.

But the elephant in the room is the question “If we ban EPS, what will people use instead?” It is quite possible that the substitutes—­wax-­coated cardboard or rigid polystyrene, for instance—­might cause more environmental harm than the EPS they are offsetting. If people end up just swapping one material for another, then there is no net reduction in the amount of trash. And the new materials, contaminated with food, may be no more recyclable than the EPS. This is the reason that many environmentalists reject one-­off bans, such as on EPS, plastic bags, and straws, in favor of more sweeping legislation relating to all plastics. The big issue, they argue, is that we have all these single-­use plastic items that end up in landfills, and that is the proverbial ball we should keep our eye on. And it isn’t even so much that they end up in landfills that is the problem; rather, it’s that single-­use items are made to begin with. Tackling any particular plastic item is at best a PR ploy and at worst a distraction from the real problem.
“A smart, unconventional book that takes readers far beyond what they think they know about a complex subject, Wasted is filled with surprising insights, careful analysis, and fascinating factoids. There’s something on every page for those who want to know more about science, business, and human behavior, all shown through the lens of, well . . . waste.  This book isn’t just for geeks—but geeks of all stripes will love it.”—Kari Byron, former cast member of MythBusters

“The collection of amazing factoids makes for entertaining reading.”—Kirkus Reviews


Praise for Byron Reese and The Fourth Age

The Fourth Age not only discusses what the rise of A.I. will mean for us, it also forces readers to challenge their preconceptions. And it manages to do all this in a way that is both entertaining and engaging.”The New York Times

“In The Fourth Age, Byron Reese offers the reader something much more valuable than what to think about artificial intelligence and robotics—he focuses on how to think about these technologies, and the ways in which they will change the world forever.”—John Mackey, co-founder and CEO, Whole Foods Market

“Timely, highly informative, and certainly optimistic.”Booklist

About

Wasted is a riveting exploration of the complicated, and often surprising, ways that waste occurs in our businesses, our communities, and our lives

“A smart, unconventional book that takes readers far beyond what they think they know about a complex subject.”—Kari Byron, former cast member of MythBusters


Waste. We spend a great deal of energy trying to avoid it, but once you train your eyes to look for it, you’ll see it all around you—in your home, your business, and your everyday life.
 
In Wasted, futurist Byron Reese and entrepreneur Scott Hoffman take readers on a fascinating journey through this modern world of waste, drawing on science, economics, and human behavior to envision what a world with far less of it—or none of it at all—might look like. Along the way, they explore thought-provoking issues such as
 
• why the United States got a higher proportion of its energy from renewable sources in 1950 than it does today 
• whether the amount of gold in unused mobile phones can be extracted for profit
• how switching to water fountains on a single route from Singapore to Newark could prevent the use of 3,400 plastic bottles—on each flight
• whether the amount of money you save buying goods in bulk is offset by the amount you lose when some spoil.
 
Ultimately, the question of reducing waste is scientific, philosophical, and, most of all, complex. According to Reese and Hoffman, the rush toward simple answers has often led to well-meaning efforts that cause more waste than they save. The only way we can hope to make progress is to treat waste as the complicated issue it is. 
 
While the authors don’t promise easy answers, in this compelling book they take an important step toward solutions by examining the questions at play, giving actionable steps, and ensuring that you’ll never see the world of waste the same way again.

Author

Byron Reese is an Austin-based entrepreneur with a quarter century of experience building and running technology companies. He is a recognized authority on AI and holds a number of technology patents. In addition, Reese is a futurist with a strong conviction that technology will help bring about a new golden age of humanity. He has written three books on technology, the most recent of which was described by The NewYork Times as “entertaining and engaging.” 
 
Scott Hoffman is the CEO of International Literary Properties and one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Management. He lives in Austin.

Excerpt

Waste and Our Planet

In a Million Years, They Will Know Us by Our Polystyrene Foam

In a million years, humanity as we know it will be long gone. No matter your philosophy, cosmology, or theology, we won’t be here. We might have evolved into Homo somethingelsius, uploaded ourselves to computers, or augmented ourselves into androids. We might have succumbed to an ecological catastrophe, blown ourselves into oblivion, or been hit by an asteroid; we might have been wiped out by Wolf-­Rayet star WR 104, which will have gone supernova by then, or abandoned this planet and gone to the stars ourselves. Or we might have been overthrown by a band of intelligent apes with a charismatic leader named Caesar, or any of a hundred other outcomes. But rest assured, we won’t be here in any way that resembles our lives today.

However, the polystyrene foam cup you drank hot coffee from this morning will still be here, buried somewhere, probably still quite recognizable, even usable.

Saturn’s rings will have vanished. Polaris will no longer be the North Star, and the night sky will look entirely different, missing the Big Dipper, Orion, and the rest of the gang. But that white foam cup will still be around. For an item whose useful life is measured in minutes, that’s pretty impressive.

But the story of that cup, its origin and destiny, is a bit more complicated than that simple narrative. So let’s take Lewis Carroll’s advice and begin at the beginning, with an organic compound called styrene, which has the chemical formula C6H5CH=CH2. It’s a liquid that is manufactured from petroleum in great quantity—­roughly thirty million tons of the stuff a year. It can be used to make latex or synthetic rubber, but most often it’s polymerized into polystyrene, a plastic.

Polystyrene, in turn, can be made into all kinds of hard plastic items, like the housing for your smoke alarm or your silverware tray. It can also be heated to boiling, which makes it expand to forty times its original size, turning it into expanded polystyrene foam, or EPS. Expanded forty-­fold, EPS is about 97 percent air, making it an excellent insulator and cushioning material, and therefore ideal for certain applications, such as disposable coolers, food takeout containers, packing peanuts, and the aforementioned coffee cup.

In this form, EPS is colloquially referred to as Styrofoam, but that’s not technically accurate. Styrofoam is a trade name for a product made by DuPont, which is made of XPS—­that is, extruded, not expanded—­polystyrene. Real McCoy Styrofoam is used in construction, not in single-­use applications. The folks at DuPont really don’t like people using their product name in a generic fashion to apply to a different kind of product. They go so far as to maintain a page on their website called “Styrofoam is not a cup” that explains that it is EPS that is used to make cups and containers—­a technology completely different from real-­deal Styrofoam.

EPS has been cast as the villain of our throwaway culture for quite some time. McDonald’s, for instance, announced its intention to stop using foam packaging way back in 1990. Since then, while EPS is never explicitly depicted as laughing maniacally while twirling its mustache, its villainy is assumed.

Its list of character flaws is damning. It doesn’t biodegrade, but it does degrade when exposed to light, entering the food chain and killing animals. It can’t be easily recycled. Worse, recyclers hate it because when EPS gets broken up in the recycling stream, it contaminates other items, making it impossible to recycle them at all. Even if EPS could be economically recycled, it is frequently covered in food, complicating matters. It weighs so little that it gets blown into the ocean, it clogs up drainpipes, and both its manufacture and its destruction are often bad for the environment.

Because EPS is mostly air, and because the world uses so much of it—­around 15 million tons annually—­the volume of EPS we produce is immense. Some estimates peg the volume of landfills taken up by EPS at as much as 30 percent, although other estimates suggest a smaller number. EPS’s volume also gives us less incentive to recycle it. A semi-­trailer loaded with aluminum—­well, you can put your kid through college with that. But a truckload of EPS is pretty much a truckload of air with a little plastic sprinkled in. It’s not worth the fuel it takes to get it to a recycling plant. So hated is EPS that it has been declared a material non grata and banned in many countries around the world, as well as a plethora of cities and states in the United States.

And yet, like many charming movie antiheroes, EPS does have virtues, at least compared to alternative forms of packaging. It requires fewer resources to make, and its high strength-­to-­weight ratio makes it less expensive to ship compared to other alternatives, which saves on energy use and CO2 emissions. For the purposes it is usually used for—­insulating food, packing electronics, and so on—­there are few materials that work as well, and none at the very low price of EPS. These virtues are meaningful, and all true. But the criticisms of EPS are also true, or at least partly true.

Let’s dig deeper into a few. First, does EPS degrade? In a landfill, not really. But of course, very little does. Landfills keep out light, which is EPS’s great nemesis. But when floating in the ocean, yes, it does break down. And when the polymer EPS breaks back down into the monomer styrene, it can do damage to the ecosystem. It crumbles, so the pieces can end up getting ingested by aquatic animals.

Can EPS be recycled? As mentioned earlier, yes, but . . . Its denser cousin, just plain ol’ polystyrene (not expanded), is recyclable. You might see the recycling code 6 stamped on the underside of polystyrene items, like plastic cups. In the United States, more than a hundred businesses do recycle EPS—­but most don’t want to deal with it. The logistical issues of transport and contamination can be solved, but doing so generally costs more than the recycled material is worth. And since it’s a fossil fuel byproduct, the value of secondary production (recycling) is as volatile as the price of oil.

Thus, whether EPS will ever be recycled at scale is still an open issue. New York famously banned EPS in 2013. The city was promptly sued, and in 2015 the ban was temporarily put on hold while the economic viability question was studied. In 2017 the city released a report called “Determination on the Recyclability of Food-­Service Foam” and found that “Food-­Service Foam compacts in collection trucks, breaks into bits, and becomes covered in food residue, making it worthless when it arrives at the material recovery facility (‘MRF’). It then blows throughout the MRF, is missed by manual sorters, mistakenly moves with the paper material and contaminates other valuable recycling streams, namely paper, which can be the most consistently valuable commodity in a recycling program.” The report’s conclusion was that EPS could not be recycled economically. A judge in the case found the New York study to be compelling, and ultimately allowed the ban to become law.

Are bans the right answer? EPS proponents argue that bans are fundamentally counterproductive and driven by politics. It’s easier for a politician to look like an environmental hero, they argue, than to do the hard work of getting curbside recycling of EPS into place.

But the elephant in the room is the question “If we ban EPS, what will people use instead?” It is quite possible that the substitutes—­wax-­coated cardboard or rigid polystyrene, for instance—­might cause more environmental harm than the EPS they are offsetting. If people end up just swapping one material for another, then there is no net reduction in the amount of trash. And the new materials, contaminated with food, may be no more recyclable than the EPS. This is the reason that many environmentalists reject one-­off bans, such as on EPS, plastic bags, and straws, in favor of more sweeping legislation relating to all plastics. The big issue, they argue, is that we have all these single-­use plastic items that end up in landfills, and that is the proverbial ball we should keep our eye on. And it isn’t even so much that they end up in landfills that is the problem; rather, it’s that single-­use items are made to begin with. Tackling any particular plastic item is at best a PR ploy and at worst a distraction from the real problem.

Praise

“A smart, unconventional book that takes readers far beyond what they think they know about a complex subject, Wasted is filled with surprising insights, careful analysis, and fascinating factoids. There’s something on every page for those who want to know more about science, business, and human behavior, all shown through the lens of, well . . . waste.  This book isn’t just for geeks—but geeks of all stripes will love it.”—Kari Byron, former cast member of MythBusters

“The collection of amazing factoids makes for entertaining reading.”—Kirkus Reviews


Praise for Byron Reese and The Fourth Age

The Fourth Age not only discusses what the rise of A.I. will mean for us, it also forces readers to challenge their preconceptions. And it manages to do all this in a way that is both entertaining and engaging.”The New York Times

“In The Fourth Age, Byron Reese offers the reader something much more valuable than what to think about artificial intelligence and robotics—he focuses on how to think about these technologies, and the ways in which they will change the world forever.”—John Mackey, co-founder and CEO, Whole Foods Market

“Timely, highly informative, and certainly optimistic.”Booklist

Celebrate 100 years of James Baldwin

We’re celebrating the centennial of James Baldwin’s birth by sharing a collection of his work. Explore titles and learn more about the literary legend and civil rights champion.   James Baldwin (1924–1987) was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, appeared in 1953 to excellent reviews, and his

Read more

The New York Times’s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

The New York Times recently published their list “100 Best Books of the 21st Century.” We are pleased to announce that there are 49 titles published from Penguin Random House and its distribution clients included in this list. Browse our collection of Penguin Random House titles here. Browse the full list from The New York

Read more

2024 Middle and High School Collections

The Penguin Random House Education Middle School and High School Digital Collections feature outstanding fiction and nonfiction from the children’s, adult, DK, and Grupo Editorial divisions, as well as publishers distributed by Penguin Random House. Peruse online or download these valuable resources to discover great books in specific topic areas such as: English Language Arts,

Read more

PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

Read more

PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

Read more

PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

Read more