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Garbage Land - On the Secret Trail of Trash

By Elizabeth Royte

Garbage: Garbage Land - On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte, Healthy Home & Green Living Books & Videos -

Publisher Info

Little, Brown and Company

1271 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY  10020 USA

We live in a society that values convenience over conscience, ease of use over environmentalism (although, perhaps that is changing). Although our ancestors may have lived among the muck, never before has humanity produced so much garbage. Each soda bottle, every used battery, the thin plastic used to hold our individually wrapped cheese singles, and even the old sweat socks we throw away end up someplace. But where? The answer will surprise you. In Garbage Land (Little, Brown and Company; July 13, 2005; $24.95), Elizabeth Royte embarks on a remarkable journey to find out exactly what happens to trash we leave behind.


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Structured around four separate journeys — those of Royte’s household trash, compostable matter, recyclables and sewage — Garbage Land is a literary investigation of the truly dirty side of consumption. Royte melds science, anthropology, humor and a strong dose of clearheaded analysis in her appraisal of America’s relationship with its garbage, examining the uncomfortable subject of waste in much the same way Mary Roach’s Stiff tackled corpses. 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, like it or not, much of the garbage we create will always be with us.

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.

In the vein of Nickel and Dimed and Fast Food Nation, Garbage Land takes us into the corners of our own lives, revealing the fantastic truth behind what we’ve taken for granted or never even thought about.


Elizabeth Royte has written for the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, National Geographic, Outside, Smithsonian and The New Yorker. She was the recipient of an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship in 1999. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.



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Garbage Land - On the Secret Trail of Trash:  Created on October 15th, 2007.  Last Modified on December 18th, 2009


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