A friend in public radio tipped me off to Elizabeth Royte and her fantastic chronicle of trash, Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, this past summer after talking to Royte for a show about trash and the law. I bought the book the next day and later met Royte at the Brooklyn Book Fest, where she was reading from her newly released paperback edition. I introduced myself and asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed for everyday trash. “Sure,” she said, adding [something along the lines of], “but I read on your blog that you’re still reading my book, so wait to see if you like it.”
Outed as not yet having finished Garbage Land, but thrilled that a genuine trash reporter had not only heard of but read everyday trash, I filed away the idea of an interview until…author’s week! What better way to kick of a week of interviews than with the Garbage Lady herself?
everydaytrash: Now that you’ve finished your book, do you still research the subject of garbage? Any recent excursions/adventures?
Elizabeth Royte: I try to keep up with garbage news through various media (including yours) [editor’s note: Royte is an occasional and much appreciated tipster to everyday trash], and I go around talking on college campuses about consumption and waste. I was recently invited by a friendly engineer to tour his landfill in Anchorage, but my plane left too early for a visit. Since Garbage Land came out, I’ve written magazine stories about the Katrina cleanup, about corn-based plastics, and waste from pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in our waterways. Oh, and I recently stayed at a zero-waste hotel in Boulder – that was kind of neat. I can’t seem to get away from the topic!
everydaytrash: Your book focuses on the way New York deals with trash. What are some other cities whose creative waste solutions you admire?
Royte: I admire what San Francisco is doing with their zero waste initiative, particularly their composting program. Boulder signed a zero waste resolution last year and is investigating composting options, and now Seattle, which has an excellent curbside program, has started fining residents for putting anything recyclable into the regular trash. It shows they take this seriously. (New York City fines residents for recycling improperly, but it doesn’t seem to be that hard-nosed about it – perhaps recognizing that the public is still pretty confused about our recycling rules.)
everydaytrash: In your book, you use your own household waste as an example of the amount we throw away and what a struggle it can be to reduce that waste. Are you still hyper-sconscious of your own trash?
Royte: I’m still hyperconscious, but I’m not nearly as conscientious as I was when I was sorting and weighing my trash. I’m lazier about getting small pieces of paper – shopping lists, receipts, blow-in cards from magazines–into my paper recycling pile (which is ten steps away and outside my apartment door). But I’m still composting.
everydaytrash: From a bigger picture perspective, are there lobbying or legislative initiatives out there that people should look out for? Is garbage a voting issue or should it be?
Royte: Yes! Mayoral elections in New York have swung on garbage issues. People _should_ be aware of where their garbage is going and have some say in how it’s handled, how their tax dollars are spent. New York City spends over a billion dollars a year collecting and disposing of waste. And yes, all Americans should be pushing for legislation that requires manufacturers of electronic waste to take responsibility for their products’ end-of-life, to recycle this stuff responsibly. Computers are hazardous waste in a landfill. We should be pushing for bottle bills, for composting programs, and for bans that keep yard waste (leaves and grass clippings) out of landfills, where it generates leachate and methane. I could go on, but I’ll spare you.
everydaytrash: Has writing a book about trash earned you any strange nicknames?
Royte: The garbage girl. Or lady.