Summary and book reviews of Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte

Garbage Land

On the Secret Trail of Trash

by Elizabeth Royte

Garbage Land
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2006, 336 pages

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Book Summary

A brilliant exploration into the soiled heart of the American trash can.

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?

Named one of the New York Times Top 100 Notable Books for 2005.

Chapter One
Dark Angels of Detritus

On a cool October morning, I caught up with John Sullivan and Billy Murphy in the middle of their Park Slope garbage route. I watched them carefully, from a slight distance, but still it took me several long minutes to figure out, in the most rudimentary way, what my san men were doing. They moved quickly, in a blur of trash can dragging, lid tossing, handle cranking, and heaving. Though barrel-chested and muscle-bound, they moved with balletic precision. Sometimes Murphy and Sullivan appeared to be working independently, other times they collaborated. Save for the grunts and squeals of the truck, it all happened in relative silence. While Murphy drove to a gap between parked cars, Sullivan slid barrels up the sidewalk to the waiting truck. Sometimes Murphy jumped down to load, sometimes Sullivan did it on his own. Then they ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Elizabeth Royte's trip to the Gowanus Canal was one of the factors that compelled her to embark on her strange journey. What compelled you to pick up Garbage Land and join her on her journey? Did you ever wonder what actually happened to the things you threw away?

  2. Garbage Land is a first-person narrative in which Elizabeth Royte guides readers through the hidden world of garbage. What does this first-person point of view add to the book? Do you think this book would have been as effective if it had been written from an omniscient narrator's point of view?

  3. On page 141, the author notes that trying to be environmentally responsible isn't always easy. Indeed, she writes that her publisher...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (130 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times - William Grimes

In Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, Elizabeth Royte shines a light on everyone's dirty secret. Like a garbage detective, she follows the used plastic bags, drink containers, old newspapers and, yes, bodily excretions that disappear into the trash can or down the toilet, only to reappear somewhere else, out of sight and out of mind...it's a fascinating, sometimes tiring, often depressing tour.

The Washington Post - Jabari Asim

Royte discovers that alternatives, such as recyclable paperboard boxes, generate waste as well. "Which was preferable? The choices, like so many at the intersection of consumerism and environmental concern, were agonizing." The difficulty of making wise, meaningful decisions is a factor Royte often acknowledges in her praiseworthy book. But just as important as her admission that she doesn't have all the answers is her persuasive demonstration that no one does.

Publishers Weekly

All in all, this is a comprehensive, readable foray into a world we'd prefer not to heed-but should.

Library Journal - Irwin Weintraub

Royte's exploration of the economic, territorial, and ecological perspectives of garbage disposal adds up to a fascinating trail of trash. Recommended for all who throw things away.

Kirkus Reviews

While there are obvious ways to cope with waste-Royte clearly outlines them-the biggest problem is mindset: we're accustomed to the ease of the toss. Royte is a natural storyteller and skillful natural historian. Few others could have pulled off turning our feculence into fascination.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

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.

Reader Reviews

Marge

An Eye Opener
Elizabeth Royte takes a journey most of us never think about .. Where DOES the trash go? Who cares?? Well, as she does her personal journey and research, we learn we should ALL care. Reading the book resulted in some immediate changes (NOT taking ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Here are a few suggestions, edited from Royte's site, on how each of us can make a difference:

  • Support recycling industries by buying goods made or packaged in recycled content.
  • Don't buy individually wrapped single servings; buy in bulk whenever possible.
  • When possible, compost food and yard waste.*
  • Visit Ecocycle for practical advice on stopping junk mail.
  • Visit Earth911 for lots of information on recycling, including where to dispose of cellphones, batteries etc.
  • Visit NewDream.com for inspiration and advice on all things recycling.
  • Donate used computers to nonprofits such as Cristina.org.
  • Find a responsible e-waste recycler at ban.org.
  • Launch an environmental purchasing program in your ...

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