Thursday, September 22, 2005

Garbage Land

My mom recommended and let me borrow the book Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. The author followed her trash from her curb in Park Slope, Brooklyn on its path to a landfill hundreds of miles away in New Jersey. The book is surprisingly fascinating, and a reminder of how strangely organized our little worlds are. How much of each day takes place without me even thinking about it? I've never asked myself where my trash goes, but there are references to all sorts of studies, articles, and books regarding the subject of trash throughout Garbage Land. Many, many people have stopped to ask questions about what our trash says about us.

I think of my own trash (recycling included): thousands of pages in magazines that I could easily read at a library rather than buying at $3-5 a piece, endless lines of Dasani water bottles, receipts, junk mail, symphony bar wrappers, banana peels, more receipts, the occasional wine bottle, yogurt containers, and other things that I drop in the little receptacle underneath the kitchen sink without a second thought.

Part of living in a highly organized society, especially one so caught up in technology and marketability, is that you're not forced to think about minute actions when everything is so damned convenient. I put the trash in a can in the alley, and the next day, while I am at work, it is magically emptied. I just keep refilling it, without any real concept of how much I trash I am actually producing from week to week, month to month, etc. Do I really want to live in a state of such convenience that I am ignorant of my own actions?

The worst part is that I know this is on my mind because I am reading the book, and after a few weeks it will only be a fleeting thought from time to time. Yes, my hands are full with very legitimate concerns regarding my students, my family, friends, schoolwork, and more. But I wonder if that's really a good enough excuse.


Mom said...

You are right about not thinking about the trash after a few weeks pass after reading the book. Never think about it at all now... until I read this blog.

Elizabeth Royte said...

Thanks for reading my book, and thanks to your mom for recommending it. Many in the waste industry, and many who manufacture consumer goods, are delighted that it's so easy for consumers to forget how much waste we generate, where it goes, and what sort of impact it has once it gets there. But there are things you can do to stem the tide. See my website for some ideas.