Julia Goldstein is a Ph.D. materials engineer. And her passion is exactly in line with the subtitle of her book: More Sustainable, Less Wasteful Manufacturing of Everything from Cell Phones to Cleaning Products.

Goldstein takes readers through a journey that is part technical, part chemical, and part applicable to our own lives. Even if you don’t make manufacturing decisions, learning about them can lead you to chose different products for your life. The concepts Goldstein discusses are not entirely new to me. But she elucidates the details in memorable ways.

This morning, I threw away some packaging from a holiday gift of shipped fruit. And I thought of Material Value. The box included cardboard, tissue, foam, and another layer of heavy padding that I didn’t split open. Sadly, I put all that waste into the garbage can and ultimately in a landfill. What I learned from Goldstein is that the company selling the fruit could make commitments to lower the amount of packaging. For example, shipping from a closer facility, or innovating more reusable or recyclable packaging. Or even developing a program where I could send the packaging back to them to be repurposed.

In Goldstein’s narrative, these thought processes currently exist in some companies. They’re primarily technology companies, although she also includes an example of a donut shops chain. What’s important to me as a consumer is the kind of critical thinking and decision making this book encourages. Not just for manufacturers or retailers, but for consumers like me.

My conclusions

This is a valuable book that covers a wide range of sustainability topics. Parts of it angle towards engineers and their technical counterparts. Other chapters focus more on consumer options and choices. For me, the former chapters were difficult to get through. But when I related more to the content, I learned a lot.

Goldstein interviews many people in a variety of industries to add context to her concepts. This is a helpful aspect of the book, and keeps it from being too much like an extended trade journal article.

If you’re interested in making more sustainable, less wasteful choices in your life, this is a solid discussion of the options.

Pair with The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which discusses similar issues with a different focus.


Many thanks to the author for a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.