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regular-article-logo Saturday, 22 June 2024

Waste not

Book is brutal in its gaze, its narrative smooth, unbroken, but not monoton­ous, fusing the history of was­te, its present-day contours, with an insider-view of the waste industry

Kajori Patra Published 06.10.23, 06:16 AM

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

Author: Oliver Franklin-Wallis

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Publication: Simon & Schuster

Price: Rs 799

Oliver Franklin-Wallis’s Wasteland not only looks at waste from a social perspective but also dissects the history of waste and its management in different countries, by different cultures and religions, and the institutional attitudes towards dealing with, or avoiding, it.

The book begins by talking about one of the gigantic mou­­­ntains of plastic waste in Ghazipur, from where Frank­lin-Wallis takes his rea­ders across various treatment plants, some legal, some not, where plastic, wa­­­stewater, me­tal scraps, food and cardboards are salvaged. Along an arc that joins Kanpur, Gha­na, the United Kingdom and China, he discusses the typologies of plastic and che­mical waste and the risks po­sed by inconvenient waste management practices, the rituals of capitalism and the legacy of colonialism. The historical perspective on Lon­don is brief but illumi­na­ting: the city salvaged it­self with its famously elabo­rate sewage system having suf­fered cholera and plague epidemics. Franklin-Wallis’s narrative is also alert to contemporary dimensions of the challenge, including food wastage and river pollution: Yamuna, the “biologically dead” river frothing with the unchecked discharges from tanneries and distilleries, thus finds a mention in the book.

Wasteland is brutal in its gaze, its narrative smooth, unbroken, but not monoton­ous, fusing the history of was­te, its present-day contours, with an insider-view of the waste industry. Incidentally, several waste recycling giants prevented Franklin-Wallis from getting a clear view — so he found an ingenious way out, befriending, for instance, Delhi’s kabadiwalas to get a sneak peek into the industry. Some others lead him down the dreary path of incinerators, German waste disposal machines, landfills, loading bays, and sewers.

The data that Franklin-Wallis digs up are frightening. But it is possible that only fear can motivate us to understand that what we consume, create and dispose of, over time, finds its way back to us.

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