Monday, October 08, 2007


I'd finished reading this book about a month ago, and have been meaning to recommend it here ever since. Garbageland, by Elizabeth Royte, traces the migrations and habitats of one of the planet's most poorly understood natural resources: America's household waste.

If you read that last sentence and object that our garbage is neither natural nor a resource, you really need to read this book. After all, everything that we throw away ultimately came from nature, and Royte's excellent investigations of the recycling industry and the zero-waste movement reveal not only that our waste could be a resource to be mined and re-used, but in many ways that range from disturbing to uplifting, it already is.

Our garbage is a serious force of nature: it travels the world, sullies watersheds, releases airborne toxics upon incineration, provides the raw materials for a mysterious shadow economy, and consumes our environmental consciences with guilt. And yet, because of its nature, no one cares to think about it, much less understand it. Garbage is taboo - maybe especially taboo for people who think of themselves as environmentalists.

But if you did force yourself to find out, as Royte does, where your garbage goes after you set it on the curb or dropped it off at the transfer station, or if you cared to investigate how much of your plastic recycling actually ends up in Chinese dumps, or if you were aware for how many millennia a banana peel can remain perfectly mummified inside a landfill, you would probably produce less garbage. This was my experience, anyhow: reading Garbageland prompted me to stop wrapping my vegetable tailings in trash bags and to start toting compost to the community garden a few blocks away instead.

So buy a used (recycled) copy, and think of it as an investment: the money you spend on it now you'll almost certainly save later on by foregoing the cheap plastic crap that tempts you at whatever big box or quaint boutique you're fond of funding.

1 comment:

pjfinn said...

Don't remember how, but I stumbled on to your site a week or so back. Interesting stuff. Guess you've gained a reader from Missoula, Montana. Keep it up.