Garbage Land- a Review

"People think there is a garbage fairy. You put it on the curb and pffft, its gone. They don't have a clue" — so says Elizabeth Royte's san man, or garbage collector. We just finished reading Garbage Land and agree- we didn't have a clue.

Ms. Royte tries to follow her garbage from her house to the truck, to the separation centers and to the dumps and recyling centers. It is a hard path- Operators do not want to talk to her, to show her what really happens. She learns that "state of the art" waste facilities are anything but.

In Part Two she tries to follow the recyclables and it is no easier. She talks about the problems of composting. She mentions Toronto's new initiative for city-wide composting- This treehugger could add sections about the abilities of raccoons to open our green bins instantly, about the problems in denser parts of town where one green bin might serve three apartments in a house and cannot handle the load, or how the neighbours of the facility where they take the material are complaining about the smells.

There is so much more- how even paper, easily separated and with real value, still makes up 40% of the waste stream. How plastics can be separated into 7 types, some of which are really valuable (2, PET, our soda and water bottles, turns into very nice fleece) or number 3, PVC, can contaminate a whole load.

In the end, the conclusions should not be surprising to treehuggers- she quotes Samantha MacBride: "Recycling isn't saving the earth. There are few environmental benefits to recycling". The entire recycling industry is a feel-good exercise that lets us purchase things we don't need and feel better about throwing them out. Instead, we have to think about what Andrew Light calls our ecological citizenship, "a ground of moral and political environmental responsibility for one's duties to the human and natural communities one inhabits and interacts with"

The author ends with the realization: "we can recycle and compost as much as we want, but the total waste stream continues to grow and we'll never escape our own mess if we don't wake up and make the connection between the economy and the environment the planet will eventually do it for us, and it won't be pretty"

Treehugger often talks about living with less, about making choices that tend to lower impact, higher quality, longer life and greater efficiency. This book is a must for anyone who wants to know what happens if you do not. ::Garbage Land (at amazon)