Wasteland: The Dirty Truth About What We Throw Away, Where It Goes, and Why It Matters by Oliver Franklin-Wallis - review by Rachel Salvidge

Rachel Salvidge

Trash Talk

Wasteland: The Dirty Truth About What We Throw Away, Where It Goes, and Why It Matters


Simon & Schuster 400pp £20

There is no such thing as ‘away’. We have long been blithely throwing out our waste – tossing it over our shoulders and moving on to the next shiny new thing, with little thought to what happens to the discarded item. It might be burned, buried, reconstituted or sent on an expedition to new lands, where it might be burned, buried or reconstituted. One person’s ‘away’ is another’s ‘here’.

In Wasteland, Oliver Franklin-Wallis journeys to some of humanity’s least fragrant locations to literally wade among our rubbish, discovering how it got there and exploring its effects on the lives of the people charged with dealing with it. You have to admire Franklin-Wallis’s constitution as he visits a giant recycling plant in Essex, an energy-from-waste plant in Avonmouth and a sewage plant in Isleworth before venturing to India to scale the Ghazipur landfill mountain and endure the delights of one of Kanpur’s tanneries – notoriously grim and visceral places.

Among the industrial-scale horrors, Franklin-Wallis finds warm and bright characters whose lives have become inextricably woven into the waste stream. In New Delhi, waste picker Anwar depends on a dangerous landfill for his livelihood and is fearful of moves to replace such sites with privatised sanitary ones that

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