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Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash
Synopses & Reviews
Out of sight, out of mind...
Into our trash cans go dead batteries, dirty diapers, bygone burritos, broken toys, tattered socks, eight-track cassettes, scratched CDs, banana peels... But where do these things go next? In a country that consumes and then casts off more and more, what actually happens to the things we throw away?
In Garbage Land, acclaimed science writer Elizabeth Royte leads us on the wild adventure that begins once our trash hits the bottom of the can. Along the way, we meet an odor chemist who explains why trash smells so bad; garbage fairies and recycling gurus; neighbors of massive waste dumps; CEOs making fortunes by encouraging waste or encouraging recycling-often both at the same time; scientists trying to revive our most polluted places; fertilizer fanatics and adventurers who kayak among sewage; paper people, steel people, aluminum people, plastic people, and even a guy who swears by recycling human waste. With a wink and a nod and a tightly clasped nose, Royte takes us on a bizarre cultural tour through slime, stench, and heat — in other words, through the back end of our ever-more supersized lifestyles. By showing us what really happens to the things we've "disposed of," Royte reminds us that our decisions about consumption and waste have a very real impact — and that unless we undertake radical change, the garbage we create will always be with us: in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we consume.
Radiantly written and boldly reported, Garbage Land is a brilliant exploration into the soiled heart of the American trash can.
"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. Agent, Heather Shroder. (July 13)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Royte's nervy and unprecedented journey through the land of garbage is fascinating, appalling, and — thanks to her keen first-person journalism, commonsense skepticism, and amusing personal asides — downright entertaining." Booklist
"Elizabeth Royte immerses herself in the underworld of garbage, a stranger, murkier, more complicated place than any of us would have imagined. Endlessly curious and infectiously enthusiastic, Royte hefts cans with her local 'san men' and sneaks into landfills, bagging the secrets of this overlooked but vitally important realm of life on earth." Mary Roach, author of Stiff
"This book stinks! It also entertains, illuminates, frightens, and inspires. Part rollicking road trip, part reconnaissance from the scary front lines of the ecological sciences, Garbage Land takes us deep down into a ninth circle of our own making to reveal the maggoty truths of our throwaway culture." Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers and Americana
"This is the most comprehensive (and funny) look by far at a subject of perennial interest — where does it all go? Any city dweller will read it with fascination and mild horror; if you've ever survived a garbage strike, every smell will come unbidden back to your flaring nostrils." Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home
"An excellent excursion into our ephemera and rejectamenta, both of which say more about us than we ever seem to understand." Robert Sullivan, author of Rats and The Meadowlands
In the vein of Stiff, Nickel and Dimed, and Fast Food Nation, Garbage Land takes us behind the scenes and into the corners of our own lives, revealing the fantastic truth behind what we've taken for granted or never even thought about. Royte's last book, The Tapir's Morning Bath, was a New York Times Notable Book, praised widely for Royte's keen observations and narrative skill.
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