Garbage Land On the Secret Trail of Trash
By Elizabeth Royte
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A New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2005
A Washington Post Book World Best Books of the Year
"My favorite investigative book of the year is Elizabeth Royte's "Garbage Land." Many of us are curious about what happens to our garbage after we throw it out, but only Royte had the guts – and the stomach – to actually follow her own trash and find out. "Garbage Land" is a journey through the mysterious world of landfills, metal shredders, and biosolids. It ain't pretty, but it is utterly fascinating." --Bruce Barcott, NPR/Living on Earth, November 28, 2005
"Royte is a journalist with a nose for the "sordid afterlife" of trash, thoroughly at home in the putrid world of "Coney Island whitefish" (used condoms); "disco rice" (maggots); and--the darling of American consumer culture and the nemesis of waste activists-- "Satan's resin" (plastic)." --The New Yorker, September 12, 2005
"Garbage has found its poet, and her name is Elizabeth Royte. In her new book, Garbage Land, America's trash trucks, waste treatment facilities, landfills, and compost heaps, as well as her san men, haulers, bureaucrats, suspiciously taciturn landfill operators, and oddly evangelistic environmentalists, are lavished with the attention of a thorough, perceptive, graceful, and often witty writer." --Jamie Malanowski, Washington Monthly, September 2005
"Anyone who cares about the environment half as much as Royte does should read this book. Then, recycle it. Or better yet, give it away." --Gary Wisby, Chicago Sun Times, July 31, 2005
"Her writing is wry and appealing. There's little waste in Royte's winning words. Seldom has garbage been handled with such care." --Clayton Collins, Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 2005
"An eye-opening book, and in a throwaway culture a must read." --Moira Bailey, People Magazine, July 25, 2005
A New York Times Editor's Choice.
A Powells.com staff choice and bestseller.
"Ms Royte is a dogged reporter and a vivid writer, which means her catalog of crimes against nature hits the senses hard." --William Grimes, New York Times, July 15, 2005
"As impressive as Royte's doggedness and investigative skill is the care she takes with language. In a book where facts and figures are so plentiful and ominous, felicitous phrasing can work like the proverbial spoonful of sugar." --Jabari Asim, The Washington Post, July 10, 2005
Starred review. "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." --Donna Seaman, Booklist
"The author's adventures in waste management provide a riveting travelog punctuated by a scathing indictment of American consumption." --Daniel Terdiman, Wired, August 2005
"This likeable chronicle of rubbish-realization [is the story of a] journey everyone should take but few will." --Neil Genzlinger, New York Times Book Review, July 10, 2005
"Royte is a modern-day, modernist muckraker, exhibiting more irony, realism, and resignation than righteous indignation. Her head and heart are with the gung-ho greens, but she wishes they'd lighten up a bit." --Glenn C. Altschuler, Boston Globe, July 3, 2005
"The author recounts her experiences with a dose of humor that makes it easier to swallow the sobering statistics about our trash." --Heather Landy, Star-Telegram (Dallas/Fort Worth), June 26, 2005
"Buy a copy of this book. Garbage Land is a thoughtful look at the history and future of trash. Most important, it's a look at what we can learn about ourselves by studying what we discard." --Scott C.
Yates, Rocky Mountain News, August 12, 2005
"Reading Elizabeth Royte's Garbage Land, I was struck again and again what a perfect book this would be for a Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman film." --Juliet Waters, Montreal Mirror, July 21, 2005
"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."--Irving Weintraub, Library Journal
"There's some great reporting in Garbage Land... and Royte deserves commendation for magnifying a simple smelly idea to such an expansive scale. Even better is her knack for bringing out the human side of a story most humans prefer to ignore." --John Dicker, Philadelphia City Paper
"It's hard not to compare Royte's book to "Fast Food Nation" — both works examine a subject often taken for granted by stripping it to its core, leaving readers with an unsettling feeling that they should take a hard look at their habits." --Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, MSNBC.com, June 28, 2005
"Royte is a natural storyteller and skillful natural historian. Few others could have pulled off turning our feculence into fascination." Kirkus Reviews
Elle magazine readers write about Garbage Land: "It came as a great surprise that the most exciting, engaging, painlessly informative book I've read in months turned out to be about garbage." -Kathleen Strattan, Narvon, PA
Garbage Land has been selected for a New York Council for the Humanities reading group, Wasting Away: Contemporary Writing on Ecological Crises
More writing from Elizabeth Royte on garbage (and a few other things):
An article in Grist about the impact of agriculture on drinking water.
An article (pdf, 2.5mb) in Gourmet on sustainable agriculture.
An article in the New York Times about tap water in New York City.
An article in OnEarth on the Katrina clean up.
An article in Gourmet about composting (pdf/555 kb).
An article in Smithsonian on the pros and cons of corn plastic.
An article for OnEarth about drugs in our drinking water.
An OpEd in the New York Times on electronic waste.
An OpEd in the New York Times about Fresh Direct's environmental
An article in Discover about endocrine disrupters in water.
Huffington Post blogs on compost, plastic bags, and curbing our enthusiasm for the new.
You can read more of Royte's garbage scraps at PBS's Webby Award-winning website Borders.
See Elizabeth on video in Trashin' the Big Apple.
Read an interview with Elizabeth Royte and a review of Garbage Land in Satya Magazine.
One of my favorite expeditions while researching Garbage Land, though this part of the story didn't make it into the book, was kayaking around the Fresh Kills landfill, on Staten Island, with Carl Alderson, a coastal restoration specialist who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. After a delightful paddle around the dump, Alderson and I narrowly escaped arrest by a sanitation cop only to end up in very shallow water with the tide going out.
. . . For several yards we poled and pried, but soon the kayak was stuck for good. Our car was parked a half mile up Main Creek, but the creek had turned into a mere trickle of brown water. Alderson seemed strangely optimistic. He checked the time on his cell phone and started muttering to himself about the tide. “Okay,” he said. “We can wait four hours till it turns, or try again to get upstream, or we can roll over the mud to the edge.” The edge, a field of waving Spartina patens, was about 60 feet away.
“How deep is the mud?”
“Over your waist.”
I thought about that. “Have you done it before?”
“Oh yeah. You’ve just got to keep from panicking. It’s like quicksand.”