Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review of Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte

I picked this book up because I thought it sounded fun. What happens to our trash? How is it ultimately disposed of? What are the plans for digging our way out of our filth in the future? I have a “Wall-E” complex when it comes to envisioning an apocalyptic ending to our time on this planet as a result of our poor waste management. “Don’t sh*t where you eat” is starting to sound like the words of some ancient prophet who has foreseen our wicked ways. “Be sure your sh*t will find you out.” And, no, not all of us will have to face the error of our ways in our lifetime, but someone will one day, and it may be sooner than we think. For centuries cities have been built on the refuse of yesteryear, but in no other time has the trash grown as exponentially per capita as it has grown in recent years. For a bird’s-eye view, check out the artwork of Chris Jordan at Look, we have trash mountains 30 stories high. Old landfills that have been closed for years will be leaking 200 lbs a day of contaminating leachate into the ground and releasing noxious gases into the air for many, many years to come. Uh. That’s not cool.  

So, this book was written in 2005. Already a little out of date, but the history of trash is still there, and I’ve learned some of the basics of potential solutions that hopefully are more advanced by now. The author has some fun describing, even making a joke of, the idiosyncrasies of the personalities and folk-culture of waste management laborers. The book swells, almost disagreeably so, with the author’s persnickety, though often humorous, cataloguing of waste-workers’ mannerisms, dress, facial features, and daily routines. Mixed-in evenly was an equally punctilious explanation of how local, national, and global efforts at waste removal and recycling has been coming along. It was exhausting. Half-page litanies of chemicals and contaminants littered the book through, and the sludging stats kept backing-up until I almost called a proof-plumber to get the story flowing again.

 I truly liked it at first, and was learning a lot, but Royte is, pardon the pun, a party-pooper when it comes to writing.  Okay, that was too far. Royte is truly a creative writer, and I had fun reading for a while, but she tries to plunge too much material at one time through the ole brain-pipes. Sad, but true. The pages grew longer and longer with the telling of the story, and I ended up skimming the last third of the book. 

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