BookBrowse Reviews Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte

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Garbage Land

On the Secret Trail of Trash

by Elizabeth Royte

Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte X
Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2006, 336 pages

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The biggest problem is mindset: we're accustomed to the ease of the toss. Current Affairs

From the book jacket: 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?

Comment: New York's approximate 320 square miles contains 59 sanitation districts, employing 7,600 workers, working 6 days a week; one district is South Brooklyn which is divided into eleven garages.  The particular garage that Royte visits in the opening chapter of Garbage Land is broken up into five sections, each in turn served by three trucks.  In one morning, one truck collects about 20,000 lbs of garbage in less than 4 hours.  Multiply this one truck by the number of routes, then by the number of garages, then by the number of districts in New York, then extrapolate this number out to encompass the rest of the USA (let alone the rest of the developed world) - and that's an awful lot of garbage. 

Despite this, according to Royte, only 2% of waste is municipal waste (i.e. the sort the garbage trucks collect from homes, schools and businesses).  The remainder, about 12 billion tons a year, is from industry, mining, agricultural etc.

In a style reminiscent of Fast Food Nation, Royte investigates what happens to our garbage, balancing conversational reporting with technical details, covering both the economic and ecological perspectives of garbage.

'Starred Review. What her staggering expose tells us is that as the quantity, variety, and toxicity of our garbage increases, we must, like nature, evolve ways to reclaim and reuse everything we make.' - Booklist.

This review was originally published in August 2005, and has been updated for the August 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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