From Publishers Weekly
The v-p of a New York City waste transfer station recommends, "You want to solve the garbage problem? Stop eating. Stop living." Indeed, to ponder waste disposal is to confront the very limits of our society. Where does it all go? Most of us are content to shrug off the details—as long as it's out of sight (and smell). Not so journalist Royte, whose book in some ways (including its title) echoes Fast Food Nation
. That McDonald's is more immediately engaging a subject doesn't make, say, the massive, defunct Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, N.Y., any less compelling. Royte nicely balances autobiographical elements (where does
her Fig Newmans carton end up, anyway?), interviews and fieldwork with more technical research. Her method yields palpable benefits, not least a wealth of vivid refuse-related slang (maggots are known as disco rice). The details unavoidably venture into the nauseating on occasion, and some might find the chemistry of trichloroethane and other toxins a bit dull. As the NIMBY logic of waste disposal forces its practitioners into secrecy, Royte is obliged to engage in some entertainingly furtive skullduggery. All in all, this is a comprehensive, readable foray into a world we'd prefer not to heed—but should.
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Royte is a journalist with a nose for the "sordid afterlife" of trash, thoroughly at home in the putrid world of "Coney Island whitefish" (used condoms); "disco rice" (maggots); and—the darling of American consumer culture and the nemesis of waste activists—"Satan's resin" (plastic). Her book takes the form of a quest for the surprising final resting places of her yogurt cups, beer bottles, personal computer, and organic-fig-cookie packaging, and leads to an impassioned attack on overconsumption in America. If Royte does not quite demonstrate the muckraking skills of an Eric Schlosser in "Fast Food Nation," she does expose the feculent underside of our appetite for things and challenges her readers to disprove the resigned assessment of a former New York sanitation commissioner: "In the end, the garbage will win."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker