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Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash Hardcover – July 13, 2005
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The New Yorker
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
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Top customer reviews
1) The author traces the path of her trash through both the recycling and the direct to the landfill dump.
2) On the way to the dump, she follows the garbage trucks (in a ride along) to the Transfer Station & then to the landfill dumps (when she is not allowed as many won't allow access to non-employees).
3) On the recycling side, she does the same, This time with a very good discussion of the economics of recycling. (A special note here is that recycling is basically a loss prone business in the US. Much recycling is repackaged and shipped to China on the return trips of those containers that bring us everything from shoes to cheap toys, all in packaging that must be either recycled, or stuffed into a landfill.)
4) She works on reducing her waste "footprint" by categorizing & sorting her trash. Also, she works on reducing her incoming stream of material (grocery store plastic bags as an example) that will go to either recycling, or the landfill.
Some things of note: She does mention the amount of waste in a Fast Food Restaurant & follows the trail of the commercial side of the trash (what she gets when she buys a meal). She mentions the back end trash (what comes in the back door of the restaurant & then goes out that same back door to the dumpster). (As an aside, I was camping at a KOA this summer & next to the facility was a special dumpster that a fast food restaurant used only for paper & cardboard waste. The dumpster was full every night & was picked up for recycling on a daily basis!) That portion of our trash cycle (industrial & commercial waste) could be the genesis for another book.
So, what does the book tell us of our society? Basically, we are a throw away society. Cheap goods, or goods that breakdown are thrown away more often than they are repaired, is our hallmark. We have trended into the no-deposit/no-return world of buy it & then, when done, toss it in the trash. The author talks about the deposit/redemption laws in several states & municipalities. She also notes that a returned container usually goes to the crusher (for glass), or the smelter (for aluminum cans). (I remember the returnable, 24 to a case, long necked beer bottles that disappeared in the 1990s. So, in commemoration of their disappearance, how about a Country Western Song titled, "Where have all the Long Necks Gone?")
One final note: I had not considered the sheer volume of plastic that I personally go through in a typical weekly trash cycle until I read this book. And, that is only plastic bags in the grocery store & the packaging around the basic household items that I purchase (shampoo & etc.). The volume is sheer madness & seems to grow even greater in volume every year!
The introduction explaining her method of how she tracked her garbage by separating and weighing in granular detail was worth skipping for me. This is a personal journey for Elizabeth, so she included many of her feelings as well as methods of experimentation to reduce, re-use and recycle. But the most interesting parts for me were learning how the system works not just here in NYC, but everywhere. The bottom line is that your garbage never really goes away, it just gets moved someplace that you don't see it. She covers all of it, from recycling, to sewage, to waste of all strains. And it's not pretty, folks. It's a matter of time before it comes back to you in some form through dangerous poisons in your drinking water or food, being washed up on a nearby shore, or in the air you breathe.
I personally think her efforts to reduce her own waste footprint, while admirable and noble, is too small to make a difference and the burden should be put on the massive industry that creates this junk that will either never break down or will wind up as lethal poisons. Just the bi-products of manufacture of all the packaging and product is enough to ruin our food, air and water supply for thousands of years.
This book is full of information everyone should be aware of and it got me thinking beyond my pail. It's not an easy pill to swallow, but Garbage Land made me aware of the scope of the problem and making industy responsible for their waste is now one of my personal issues.
A follow-up book: A nation like Japan has approximately the popluation of the USA in a country roughly the size of California...where do *they* put it all. I'd be interested.