Garbage Land
On the Secret Trail of Trash



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

New York Times Editor’s Choice. 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,, 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

About the Book

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 among 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 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 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.

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