Sunday, October 16, 2011

Garbage Land: read it

I have just finished reading Garbage Land, On The Secret Trail of Trash, by Elizabeth Royte. It is unlikely that I would have stumbled upon the title if I had not met Elizabeth via the every-other-Tuesday Litter Mob in Prospect Park, for which she has volunteered several times.

After some months of being acquainted with her and then her website I thought it silly that I had not read any of her books, especially one written about trash - we had met over litter, after all. First, I read The Tapir's Morning Bath, her first book, about a rain forest field station on an island in the Panama Canal - about which more, later. I was still working up courage for an entire book about our garbage and where it goes: and then I bit the bullet.

My verdict? Everyone who owns a garbage can should read it.

Instead of feeling consumed by guilt, as I had imaged I would be, I finished it on a note of optimism, feeling more inspired than defeated. The research and statistics are pretty jaw-dropping, but in a liberating, holy cow kind of way. She writes in the first person about what happens to her personal trash, which she weighs and sorts for a year, and from that extrapolates 294 pages of trashy, fascinating story telling. It has added appeal for me, as a New Yorker, because she writes about my backyard, beginning in Park Slope, Brooklyn, running down to the Gowanus Canal, paddling around Fresh Kills on Staten Island (the largest dump, ever, in the world, and now the largest park in New York City), moves to a high security and secretive Pennsylvanian dump, down to a Texan town where the air is so foul from our New York sludge that people throw up, over to the goody two shoes West Coast, which does everything better, and then back to that New York sludge - solid waste known as biosolids, which lands up in bags of fertilizer and on our crops!

It is a fascinating, entertaining, instructive story. It should be required reading in schools.

An Amazon copy of Garbage Land cost me, new, $4.95 plus shipping, which is a story in itself, I am sure. Let's just say that most people probably don't want to read about garbage. I know I didn't. I look at my kitchen garage pail with new eyes, and am far more interested in the sanitation workers who collect our trash than I ever thought I could be. "While the fatality rate for all occupations is 4.7 deaths per 100,000 workers, garbage collectors die at a rate of 46 per 100,000. In fact, they're approximately three times more likely to be killed on the job than police officers or fire fighters."

Yes, we must recycle. But even that is called into question. The moral of the story is to consider, carefully, where what we buy goes, when we're done with it. And how much waste was generated in the making of that thing we just bought. "For 100 pounds of product that's made, 3,200 pounds of waste is generated."



  1. My library has it. I'll give it a try.

  2. I love what you have done in Prospect Park and thank you for suggesting this book. I saw a documentary once on the water bottle industry and it actually showed an area in the ocean where all the bottles in end up floating around. Very heart wrenching to me. As a gardener in Central Park, I have to deal with litter every day. I have started a blog on the environment and referenced your blog today. Keep up the good gardening and fight against pollution!

  3. Please bring that book with you when you come -don't know if it's available here but I can ask.

  4. Will try for a copy too. I might be over here in England but responsibility for our throwaway materials is a global concern.

  5. I read "Garbage Land" earlier this year and loved it. You learn so much about the geography of Brooklyn. I bored my family and friends about it endlessly, until they had to tell me to "stop! please stop now!" Have you seen the documentary Wasteland? Highly recommended. One of the most uplifting docs I've seen in a long time. And another book I liked was "Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff" by Fred Pearce. And yet another good book, not exactly about trash or garbage but very similar to "Garbage Land," is "Where Underpants Come From" by Joe Bennett. (Keeping my eye on Estorbo and hoping he's responding well to treatment.)

  6. Garbage Land review is up as requested. :)


Comments on posts older than 48 hours are moderated (for spam control) . Yours will be seen! Unless you are a troll. Serial trollers are banned.