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Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash…
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Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash (2005)

by Elizabeth Royte

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I grew up watching eco-conscious shows like 3-2-1 Contact and I've always had the recycling bug. When our city recycling program stopped taking glass last year, it was like a knife in the liver. It almost kills me to put glass in the garbage bin. I've always bought grocery items in glass jars specifically because they were not plastic and wouldn't end up in the ocean, killing off sea birds and marine life. I'm the type of person who gives my house guests a tour of where the recycling bins are and am not above helicoptering over my mother to make sure she's playing by the house rules. So when Garbage Land popped up in my Recommendations, I knew it would find its way on to my library hold list.

Royte is one committed lady. She logged and documented her trash, recycling and composting for nearly a year. She visited landfills, recycling plants, composting plants, sewage treatment plants and sanitation garages as well as participated in eco fairs and industry conventions. She learned a lot about where our wastes go and it's impressive, informative and surprising.

Do you recycle? Why do you recycle? Does it make you feel better about the consumer culture we live in? Do you know where your recycled items actually, finally end up? It might not be where you think. It might not even be as beneficial as you imagined. And in the grand scheme of it all, it might not make that much of an impact.

Most of all, Ryote gave me more food for thought - bigger fish to fry, so to speak. And I feel better about the glass going into my garbage bin - mostly. ( )
  VictoriaPL | Jan 18, 2017 |
I learned a lot about the processing of trash in all of its forms. At the end of the book, however, I don't feel that I know what the best choices really are. But interesting nonetheless. ( )
  Phyllis.Mann | Jul 13, 2015 |
Elizabeth Royte decided one day to find out what happened to her garbage. The result is Garbage Land, a mesmerizing trip through the hidden, but necessary, side of the consumption society.

The waste stream has tripled since 1960, 4.3 pounds per person. In 2003, every American generated 1.31 tons of trash each year, about 2.5 times what a resident of Oslo, Norway produces. The quantities of waste that we produce each day is staggering and technological approaches to managing the waste have evolved rapidly even since the eighties. Sanitary landfills, invented during the fifties in an attempt to control leachate, the intermixing of chemicals and organic materials, and prevent it from entering the groundwater supply, have become hugely expensive to build and maintain. They contain pipes to collect the leachate and return it to the top of the landfill, believing that it stimulates the breakdown of organic materials and speeds up the creation of methane, a valuable gas that is used to produce electricity in many locations.

Other installations produce electricity by burning trash (WTE, or waste-to-energy, plants.) Metal and other obvious non-flammables are pulled from the huge daily loads by large magnets and recycled. The rest is burned and toxic chemicals (remember, people throw out all sorts of hazardous stuff in the trash) are scrubbed from the smoke (most of it anyway) and the resulting ash (at least that's the plan.) The problem is that evidence is mounting that people who live close to WTE plants and landfills (because methane that leaks out often contains a variety of really awful chemicals) show much higher incidence than normal of a variety of ailments.

The numbers are staggering and ironically the costs drive policy (so what else is new.) New York can no longer afford to recycle because the cost of shipping trash off to Pennsylvania (largest importer of trash in the country) is so high they can't afford the additional manpower and vehicles to process the recylables. That means more goes into the landfills or is burned, creating an even more bizarre mixture of chemicals to form who knows what in the landfill. And even 40 mm plastic sheathing at the bottom of these things is not 100% effective.

For those of you wanting to return to the simpler days of yore, a few facts:

1. In mid-nineteenth century New York, residents simply threw their trash out the window for scavengers to ravage. Often, by spring, garbage and less savory material might be two to three feet deep on the streets. Only the wealthy could afford trash collection.

2. Horses left 500,000 pounds of manure a day on Manhattan streets, and 45,000 gallons of urine. Horses worked hard; their average life span was 2.5 years and in 1880 15,000 dead horses littered the streets. Again, wild animals were expected to make the carcasses more portable by stripping the flesh off them so they could be dumped into the bay.

3. Ocean dumping virtually destroyed the famous oyster beds, but provided the land for the World's Fair and today's airports. It wasn't until 1948 that the public opinion demanded the first city dump.

Don't forget that today is the good old days of tomorrow.



( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
It's rare for me to finish a book and carry it straightaway to my computer to order all the books in its bibliography, but in this case, that's exactly what I did. It's one of those books that helps one to understand that everything one knows about, oh, say, recycling is completely and utterly wrong. All y'all should read this one, and then tell your friends about it. Meanwhile, I'm shopping for a composting toilet. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
This is a very dense book that appears to cover every possible aspect of garbage disposal and recycling in New York in particular and California and other states in general. Its quite interesting and very worthy and ... ultimately meaningless as a statistic towards the end reveals that only 2% of all garbage is household waste. The rest of it is industrial, primarily manufacturing and commercial, mostly restaurants and fast food outlets. One of the quite shocking (if you imagine this planet weighed down with detritus) figures is that for every 100 pounds of manufactured goods, 3,200 pounds of waste are generated.

Elizabeth Royte quotes from a paper by Samantha McBride of NYU's Dept. of Sociology on consumer recycing. 'Such programs', she wrote, redirect 'the focus of environmental concern away from the material unsustainability of the current economic system, instead turning it inward on the self'.

As long as we insist on living in an economy that revolves around forever researching, developing, manufacturing, selling, purchasing, using and discarding goods in favour of the Next New Thing, the focus on trash will be how to deal with it. We really should be concentrating on how not to make so much of it in the first place. But we won't, we're too addicted to 'new'. The thought of an economy that does not depend on consumerism would be considered anti-patriotic by Americans and, in any case, be unworkable in any present Western society.

So what to do? Buy a bag that says Green on it, divide up the garbage and feel satisfied that you are doing your bit for the planet and forget the other 98% that nullifies your efforts. Blinkers.

( )
  Petra.Xs | Apr 2, 2013 |
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For Peter and Lucy
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On a cool October morning, I caught up with John Sullivan and Billy Murphy in the middle of their Park Slope garbage route.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031615461X, Paperback)

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 amid 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 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Science writer 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 amid sewage; paper people, steel people, aluminum people, plastic people, and even a guy who swears by recycling human waste. By showing us what 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.… (more)

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