How Trash Transformed into a Tangible Metaphor Ten observations of living in a waste land


“All I’ve been thinking about all week is garbage,” Ann confides in the opening of Sex, Lies, and Videotape. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“What kind of thoughts about garbage?” her therapist asks, his voice a little wary.

“I just…I’ve gotten real concerned over what’s gonna happen with all the garbage. I mean, we’ve got so much of it. You know? I mean, we have to run out of places to put this stuff eventually…. I started imagining, like, a garbage can that produces garbage. And it doesn’t stop, it keeps producing garbage. And it keeps overflowing.”

God help me, I remember smirking at that opening scene. Rolling my eyes at her neuroticism.

Now, I read Michael Marder’s description of our entire planet as a dump for industrial output, and I do not even blink.




The average U.S. citizen creates nearly five pounds of trash a day. Mentally weighing the day’s wrappers, oddments, and guilty spoiled leftovers, I trace four pounds easily. Live past eighty, and I will have left seventy-two tons of trash for posterity.

I would rather have left a garden.

How did this happen, anyway? I never asked for all that bubblewrap. Why do we create such an extraordinary amount of trash, piling higher and higher than what we actually use?

Consider, if you will, Sam’s Club. All those supersized quantities, their braggy labels pulsing under fluorescent lights. Ugly lures that pretend to be no-nonsense bargains. Great for a family of six, but when the two of us caved and bought a membership, the food rotted before we could finish it. Every week, I ritually forgot this fact and trotted back to Sam’s. I knew I would leave sated, soothed by an abundance that was cramming our cabinets so full, I kept rebuying stuff I already had.

Stuff. That miscellany of possessions comedian George Carlin astutely lumped together as “our stuff,” because it is so varied or vague, we cannot name it—yet we are somehow convinced it defines us.

Trash, then, is simply stuff we have fallen out of love with. Stuff we no longer want and would rather not even see, let alone name. Casings, wraps, peels, carcasses. Paper crumpled around our body fluids. Once distinct objects smeared and jostled together, untouchable now, cast outside the circle of acceptability.

Live past eighty, and I will have left seventy-two tons of trash for posterity. I would rather have left a garden.

“Trash” first referred to people. Shakespeare used the insult back in 1604, and two hundred years later, it caught hold as a label for poor White Southerners. Today’s tiered health care leaves all sorts of us less likely to get repaired. And once we are broken, we become expendable—like the elders whose deaths from COVID-19 were counted a cost savings by certain politicians.

The word “trash,” like the trash itself, keeps expanding. First, it stretched from people to rubbish, and now it covers anything else deemed useless, cheap, or throwaway. When someone is trashed, they are useless, skunk-drunk, wasted. Trashy women (why never men?) are cheap and easy, temporary amusements. Trash talk cheapens its target. Trash tv and trashy novels dangle enough sex, scandal, blood, and idiocy to drown out thought.

Nobody saves those airport novels. But a New York garbage collector did start a museum of mongo: objects of interest and value plucked from people’s bins. Housed in a garage in East Harlem, the museum is crammed with stuff (“mongo” ceases to be trash the minute you yank it back) that is so cool it has inspired art installations.

So why was it discarded?

Because in the United States, we crave, trust, and find comfort in what is material, the more of it the better. Filled with a horror vacui, terrified of an emptiness that might reveal us to be inadequate or torment us with our own thoughts, we pile up stuff. So much stuff, we need the relief of throwing some of it away.




A friend of mine picks up anything left on a curb, anything offered free online or left in an alley. Gleeful, he will lug home a double iron sink and jam it in with all the other junk he has appropriated. He so hates to see anything go to a landfill that he is turning his house into one.

Another friend winces at the notion of buying someone else’s pristine Fiestaware or wearing a castoff designer gown. That zipper has slid across another woman’s vertebrae; that satin has touched her skin. It is now contaminated.

We are weird about what we rescue, excessive or phobic or at best, capricious. We are even weirder about what we buy.

The word “trash,” like the trash itself, keeps expanding. First, it stretched from people to rubbish, and now it covers anything else deemed useless, cheap, or throwaway.

Because the human body is so fragile, heir to a thousand natural shocks, we want the things we surround ourselves with to be germ-free, hermetically sealed, untouched by strangers. (Conveniently, we forget that strangers made them.) Manufacturers shrink-wrap, blister-pack, swaddle, and cocoon for us, until more than 28 percent of all U.S. garbage is packaging. Is there really so much breakage that a box has to be enclosed in a box that is then boxed again, like a Russian nesting doll?

In short, we have a problematic relationship with stuff. Those who love it are drowning in it. Those who hate it must become ascetics—or travel to a remote and simple place—to escape its ubiquity.

This may be capitalism’s fault.

Thorsten Veblen wrote a “law of conspicuous waste,” linking capitalism to rapid changes in fashion that required the old to be thrown away in order to prove oneself au courant. Just typing that sentence triggers yet another closet purge. Not wild about that shade of red, but the shirt was soft and 75 percent off…. Gone. Item by item, I weed out the excess. And then, when the hangers hang straight and slide freely, I feel a restlessness, an insidious whisper of desire. I can go shopping again.

It is exciting to need something, better yet just to want it. “Corrosive desire,” the psychologists call this. The curse of perpetual dissatisfaction. I acquire, enjoy the frisson, feel it fade, shop again and call it therapy….

Even more than I love to shop, though, I love to toss, give away, recycle, get rid of. There is a freedom to it, an arrogance that says I can live without this. Yet there is a healthier sort of excitement in neither buying nor trashing. Need a short-sleeved blouse? Cut off and hem the long-sleeved one. Need a coral lipstick? Mix the orange and pink. Making do, when it works, is infinitely more satisfying.

Recycling used to be fun that way. Early on, I bought a snazzy three-compartment sorter and learned to decode the little triangles. But over time, the esprit de corps faded, and I eventually tossed out that refrigerator-magnet checklist, not even sure if it was recyclable.

Like life itself, recycling had grown too complicated.

Glass has to be driven to the recycling center and sorted like laundry, colored wine bottles tossed into one bin (delicious when they shatter) and clear jam jars into the other. Styrofoam goes to a separate bin at the county annex. Plastic jugs must have their narrow throats cut, so if they do wind up in a heap somewhere, birds and raccoons will not strangle trying to reach what they once held. Plastic bags get crammed into the grocery store recycling bin. Yard waste gets hauled to the compost pile at the park. Toxic waste waits for the annual event, such a relief it feels almost festive.

Thorsten Veblen wrote a “law of conspicuous waste,” linking capitalism to rapid changes in fashion that required the old to be thrown away in order to prove oneself au courant. Just typing that sentence triggers yet another closet purge.

And who knows what to do with those leftover CFL bulbs, ready to shatter and spill their mercury? And are the black deli containers recyclable? The plastic windows on the bill-paying envelopes? The wax-coated coffee cups? Their plastic sippy-cup lids?

This is where I start to feel overwhelmed.




A small Southern Illinois town of German heritage, Waterloo cleans up its oom-pah-pah parades and sausagefests so fast, you can walk uptown an hour later and see no trace. Yet even here, there are people who throw gloppy diapers, kiddie cars, and unlucky bowling balls into their recycling bins. They dump their trash in, too, if their trash bin is overflowing. They go hunting and then slide the deer carcass into a commercial recycling Dumpster under cover of darkness.

“Only maybe one in nine people,” guesses Tim Scheibe, president of Reliable Sanitation. But one is all it takes to contaminate a truckload of recyclables by 3 to 5 percent, and that means Reliable will be docked an extra $150 on top of the $100 charge per truckload. It only costs $30 to take a load to the landfill. So when Reliable’s workers see trash in a recycling load, all those painstakingly rinsed jars, broken-down Amazon boxes, and crushed aluminum cans go straight to the landfill.

Like life itself, recycling had grown too complicated.

The next time I douse an empty peanut butter jar with dish soap and hot water, I will scrub angrily, sure that some yahoo is going to throw a nonrecyclable spanner into the works and my efforts will be for naught.

“We like to see everything loose and clean, nothing bagged,” Scheibe tells me. All those yogurt tubs I stack so neatly, all the times I have condensed my recycling by putting containers inside other containers? I probably contaminated a few loads with good intentions alone.

“And what about the plastic?” I ask, dreading the answer. “Is it true it’s not even cost-effective to recycle?”

He tells me his job is just to take plastic to the recycling facility—a reputable one run by Republic Services. “Where it goes from there, I don’t know.”




Republic Services agrees to let me tour one of its St. Louis recycling facilities. In preparation, I read the company’s most recent report on plastics, which says only 17 percent of the nation’s plastic is being recycled. Without regulation, the report notes, “markets will typically solve for lowest-cost option.”

I repeat that line aloud. It explains so much.

The 17 percent consists mainly of soda bottles, water bottles, and milk jugs, code numbers 1 and 2, which are easy to recycle and reuse. Look down: your feet could be resting on the shreds of crackly water bottles. Heated, those bottles melt into strands that easily absorb a color stain, then cool into a tough weave that resists any future stains.

“Domestic markets for other resins are limited, or simply do not exist,” the report continues. “Of the total recyclables we sell, only 7.7 percent are plastics.” For numbers 3, 4, 6, and 7, markets are so limited that Republic Services believes “the most responsible form of management, particularly from a climate perspective, is landfill.”

Could there be a more depressing conclusion? After years of bright-eyed, hopeful recycling, much of this stuff will wind up trashed anyway. The only real solution is to curb our desires. Avoid single-use plastic, period. Go to such lengths that we strike our friends as obsessive. Be obsessive.

Or live in a planet that is rapidly becoming a dump.




Bits of trash blow like tumbleweeds, swirling around our legs as we talk. Brent Batliner, general manager for Republic Services’ two St. Louis recycling centers, is a burly guy, matter of fact, fourth generation in this business and quick to emphasize that it is a business. Nobody is tilting at windmills here. Having made that clear, he surprises me by marveling at “how ugly the material looks when we start.” He finds it deeply satisfying to see all that chaos sorted, sifted, and bundled into giant cubes, like with like, for resale.

As he says this, a truck pulls in and spits its bright mishmash of paper, plastic, cans, and glass. It will be fed through the system at about twenty-five tons an hour. Cardboard is first to leave the mix, sailing over the top of a rotating disc. Whoever buys it need only mush it up into a soup and let it harden into cardboard again. Easy peasy, and for a while, there was even profit in it. Now the pandemic’s “Amazon effect” is weakening, so there is less demand and therefore less profit, and the recyclers are no longer eagerly proactive in gathering it in. “We follow the commodity,” Batliner says with a shrug.

A sparkle of shattered glass falls through a screen, and the waterfall of trash rushes down a chute, clacketing toward the next station. Flattened, the stream glides beneath an optical sorter that, from our high perch, looks like it is on fire, intense white light flashing as its infrared cameras identify anything that is not paper and air-jet it to another bucket. A magnetic belt lifts the steel cans. Negative magnetic current pulls the aluminum out of the mix. The next optical sorter identifies the chemical makeup of different plastics. “Watch what happens when these hit the edge,” Batliner says, sliding milk jugs onto the belt so they will be shot out of the mix.

Plastic coded 6, polystyrene, absorbs the stink and goo of whatever food it held, so it is hard to recycle. Numbers 3, 4, and 7, Batliner can send “to special compounders. If you’re Boeing and you need a certain grade of plastic….” But there is less and less enthusiasm in his voice.

Several orange juice cartons slide past; turns out they are now recyclable, as are milk and ice cream cartons. Who knew?

This not knowing is part of the overwhelm. Recyclers try to keep their messages simple to keep us compliant, but when details leak out, we feel betrayed—and less compliant.

This facility was built twenty-five years ago, when consumers were more careful. Only 8 percent of what came in had to be trashed. Since then, the amount of plastic in the world has more than doubled, and more consumers are uninformed or disenchanted. The share that gets trashed is up to 21 percent.

This not knowing is part of the overwhelm. Recyclers try to keep their messages simple to keep us compliant, but when details leak out, we feel betrayed—and less compliant.

Workers find car parts—“There was a bumper laying around somewhere”—cell phones that could burn the place down, helium tanks that explode along the way, toxic pesticides, and once, a clawfoot tub. In election season, the signs show up. In January, the strings of Christmas lights. Come summer, garden hoses wrap around the machinery and shut the operation down for an hour at a time. Batliner showed a tv news crew one of those hoses, and his mother-in-law saw the segment that evening and wailed, “Oh my God, Brent, I’m so sorry! That was my hose! It’s plastic and metal, so I thought….”

He shrugs. “People mean well. And we have to take some of the blame. You get busy running your business, and generations grow up. Kids are smarter, and people my age care enough, but somewhere in the middle, we missed them.”

There is also a lot of confusion, some of it deliberately engineered. Those expensive, optimistic “compostable” garbage bags? If they are sealed up in a landfill, there is hardly any point. “Biodegradable” coffee cups sound recyclable, but Batliner does not want them. A mailer can be labeled “recyclable,” but the fine print tells you that it needs to be mailed back to a particular place. “All it’s done,” he sighs, “is make a longer trip to the landfill.”




Hell began as a garbage dump, sunken in the valley outside the ancient city of Jerusalem. It was called Gehenna, and people went there to burn trash, goat and donkey carcasses, and the corpses of criminals.

Over time, “Gehenna” came to symbolize fiery torment, judgment, and punishment. The hell the Jews called Gehenna was described as “situated deep down in the earth” and immeasurably large. “The whole world is like a lid for Gehenna,” wrote Talmud scholars. Some conjured “a fiery river” and “smoke continually rising”; the Persians added glowing molten metal; the Babylonian Talmud described how “the wind strews the ashes.”

Modern pollution has turned the ancients’ hell into reality.

In Belleville, Illinois, outside a landfill that has been closed for a quarter-century, streaky orange and blue flames burn atop tall “candlestick” pillars. Like the fires of Gehenna, they never go out. They are burning off the methane released as the trash slowly, slowly decomposes.

Waterloo’s trash goes to a landfill in Marissa, Illinois. Scheibe says it is moved regularly, exposed to air and light so it will break down faster. This surprises Batliner, whose company keeps its landfill tightly sealed so the trash “doesn’t rot. That’s a good thing. It means the landfill’s doing its job.”

Hiding our filth, and keeping all our toxins from seeping back into our lives.

I try seven times to reach the Marissa landfill or the national corporate office. How that particular landfill operates will have to remain opaque, like much of this industry. A coal mine for twenty years, the site is a vast, deep cavern. It was hollowed by men with ashen faces and, when their luck failed, crushed spines. Now, we are refilling it. What first lay beneath the ground was hard and energy rich, layered with ancient carbon, black shale, and bands of pyrite, or fool’s gold. Now, we are stuffing it with the detritus of society. Again, fool’s gold.




At Cahokia Mounds, the nation’s oldest city, I pant as I climb the zillion steps to the top of Monk’s Mound. Its base is bigger than the base of the Great Pyramid at Giza. But what interests me this morning is the view from the top: straight across to the only mound that is larger, the Milam Landfill in East St. Louis. Pale green in the distance, its twenty stories contain friable and non-friable asbestos, auto shredder fluff, biosolids, Superfund waste, demolition debris, municipal solid waste, industrial sludge, and contaminated soil. All tucked beneath that innocent grass—and piled atop a flood plain.

The trash of the Mississippians who built Monk’s Mound went into refuse pits, though much of it was biodegradable. Archaeologists have unearthed broken pottery, ceremonial masks, deer and swan bones, and fire-cracked rocks.

Our refuse? Glass salsa jars and vodka bottles that will last one million years. Flimsy plastic bags that will last one hundred. Sticky, oozing diapers and the spent condoms that made them necessary. Glued-together furniture, instantly obsolete appliances, tires made not to last (except once trashed). “What you don’t want is always going to be with you,” writes Katherine Boo.

As a civilization, we have yet to grasp this.

Until the 1800s, Europeans casually threw their garbage and sloshed their chamber pots out the window, tempting cholera and the rats that spread the plague.  Here in the vast, shiny-clean New World, settlers ignored the quiet practices of the first Americans. By 1889, the health officer for the District of Columbia was warning, “Appropriate places for [refuse] are becoming scarcer year by year, and the question of some other method of disposal…must soon confront us.”

Our brilliant solution? Piggeries. Cities began feeding their raw garbage to swine—which worked for decades, until the parasitic disease that was sickening the pigs began to threaten humans. Food scraps should be boiled, the authorities insisted. They added that the nutritional value of American garbage was already sliding downhill—even for pigs.

The next brilliant idea was to use swampland, stupidly thought to be useless, for landfills. And so we destroyed the nation’s crucial wetlands. Then we began shipping our garbage to countries poor enough to welcome it—until the dumping became a scandal. Meanwhile, Europeans were quietly incinerating their trash, which looked responsible until someone noticed all the carbon dioxide spewing into the air.

“What you don’t want is always going to be with you,” writes Katherine Boo.

So now what do we do?

I have it! Taxidermy! A single answer to the parallel crises of faith and toxic waste. As people die, uncertain of an afterlife, we will stuff them with the detritus of their lives. Smoosh up those plastic bags to make a soft belly. Fill arms and legs with bendable mailing tubes. Stiffen the spine with deli clamshells, and there you go. You are what you trash.

The director of Crimes of the Future had a cleaner solution. Cut to scene of little boy munching on plastic trashcan. Line: “We’ve got to start feeding on our own industrial waste.”

Maybe we will. Maybe someday we will excavate these landfills as carefully as we did Pompeii, and all that shiny, immortal plastic will get transformed into smoothies and protein bars. Maybe the trash that nearly buried us will keep us alive.




One third of all food intended for human consumption either rots or gets peevishly discarded. I cannot shake off that stat. When a friend declines a doggie bag, I yelp, “I’ll take that,” feeling tacky but valiant. Lydia Maria Child scolded this wasteful nation back in 1832: “Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling.” Chastened, I started a file of ways to use stale bread, leftover buttermilk, orange rinds, potato peels, starch water, pickle juice…. So far, I have only managed to make croutons.

Funny, though, how nothing I buy at the farmer’s market goes to waste. Beautiful, organic, unpackaged, fresh, and pricey, it beckons from the refrigerator drawer. So does any recipe I whip up from scratch. When people milked their own cow, grew their own veg, and baked their own bread, I am willing to bet there was far less waste. What is easily come by, we readily discard.

But what if we had to dispose of all our trash ourselves?

We know the garbage truck only as the rhinoceros that blocks the alley, lumbering toward us when we are late for work. But in Manhattan in the 1600s, the first garbage collectors would only take your “tubbs of odour and nastiness…provyded the dirt be throwne & Loaden upon the cart by the owners or tenneants of the howses in the sad streets.”

It would never happen today. Not in the sad streets, and not in the suburbs. Strikes in Paris horrify everybody—garbage piling up behind the bistros, spilling into the lilacs, oozing into the Seine—yet no one rolls up their sleeves and collects it. Sanitation work ranks as dangerous as fighting fires, what with all the toxins, sharp or jagged or massively heavy objects, shredder and baler accidents, and traffic accidents. Yet when was the last time anyone lined a street to solemnly salute the funeral cortege of a garbage collector?

They are quiet, unpopular heroes, like the old retired guys who trudge around with sticks, picking up the kids’ litter, tidying the world. All this talk about landfills, yet one can still play archaeologist on any street or sidewalk, gathering supersized Styrofoam cups and tallboys and giant candy bar wrappers and tiny (only because it makes them cheap and hidable) Fireball bottles. As I trudge miles with squishy, plastic-encased dog poop dangling from one hand, I feel a little jealous of the litterers. How cool and carefree it must feel to just toss your trash anywhere, be rid of it, and move on. Take a last drag and sail your still-sparking cigarette butt into the gutter, letting it join the eighteen billion that litter the Earth every year.

Trash, like shit, is a relief to discard; we fling our waste as far away as possible. Eager to be rid of it, we fall into absurd contradictions. We bury our waste to stop it from decomposing. We switch to lightweight, biodegradable bags, then double them so they will not tear. We order our meal ingredients prepped and delivered—a huge waste of energy and materials—to save our time. We burn vast amounts of energy and fill the air with toxic waste to track Bitcoin or feed data to bots.

“Our stuff” tells the story we want to tell about ourselves. Our trash makes our confession.




While a fetus is curled inside the womb, the placenta sustains life in every way necessary. Once the baby emerges, the placenta is no longer needed. Here in the United States—this will not come as a shock—the custom is to throw the placenta away. But many cultures save, eat, or reverently bury this life-giving organ. The Maori name it with their word for land, letting the burial symbolize the newborn’s connection to Mother Earth.

Sanitation work ranks as dangerous as fighting fires, what with all the toxins, sharp or jagged or massively heavy objects, shredder and baler accidents, and traffic accidents. Yet when was the last time anyone lined a street to solemnly salute the funeral cortege of a garbage collector?

That connection is growing risky. At random, researchers in Rome chose six placentas to analyze and found microplastic fragments in four of them. All twelve fragments were brightly colored, pigmented with dyes used in cosmetics, paints, or polymers.

Microplastics float in our bloodstream, too. Like an invisible snowfall, they cover the earth and seep into all its life forms. Normally, that would make it feel even more urgent to recycle plastic. But another team of researchers just discovered that chopping, shredding, and washing plastic sends millions of pounds of microplastic into the air and wastewater.

If the findings of that study generalize, then as many as 400,000 tons per year of microplastics are being created in the U.S. alone, simply by recycling plastic. (That does not count the particles that are even smaller, challenging to measure but probably more abundant.) The upshot? Serious health risks, according to the United Nations. Microplastics can affect genes, brain development, and reproduction. “There is no doubt whatsoever,” says renowned pediatrician and epidemiologist Philip Landrigan, “that plastic causes disease, disability, premature death, economic damage, and damage to ecosystems at every stage of its life cycle.”

And our efforts to get rid of it are increasing those risks.




A couple was finalizing a rough divorce and selling their dream home. In the roll-off Dumpster, Scheibe found a Rolex and diamond jewelry I imagine were thrown hard.

Trashing makes a statement.

Even in households free of drama, responsible citizens bag up their garbage in black plastic, like murderers with a body to dispose of. After accidentally tossing something important, I realize I will have to open that black bag, dump out its contents, and sift through the ick, moving mangled cartons, slimed lettuce, and grease-slicked containers with index finger and thumb. A frantic despair rises as I crouch over the mess. Its smell sinks into my bones, and the stickiness and slime cling to my hands, refusing to be parted.

Garbage is a reminder of everything we do not want to remember: greed, filth, shit, death. Recycling feels virtuous, but we are bailing with a teaspoon. Not only is the sheer amount of trash overwhelming, but deciding what to do about it has become, like our presidential elections, an effort to choose the least bad alternative. Do I waste scarce water rinsing plastics that probably will wind up in a landfill? Is it better to send them to a recycling facility that will release microplastics into our air and water? Do I order the sustainable alternative I can only find on Amazon and burn all that energy to get it? Can I let myself feel bitter when recycling does not get recycled, or do I stay earnest because even though my efforts weigh less than a grain of sand when measured against the impact of big corporations, this is how I want to live?

Garbage is a reminder of everything we do not want to remember: greed, filth, shit, death. Recycling feels virtuous, but we are bailing with a teaspoon.

Seeking the comfort of someone else’s misery, I pick up The Waste Land. What pained T.S. Eliot in 1922 was the barrenness of the modern world, its “stony rubbish” and “heap of broken images.” Contemporary scholars bend his reference to trash in the Thames into an “ecocritique,” but are they misreading him? He writes that the merry trash of a gentler era is gone:


The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,

Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends

Or other testimony of summer nights.


Human frolic has ended. Granted, Londoners breathe a brown fog, and “the river sweats / Oil and tar.” But the desolation that troubles Eliot comes from a soulless industrial greed that has yet to explode into wanton consumerism. He is mourning spiritual and intellectual decay. I am mourning the trash we then generated to fill that emptiness.

Before it became a garbage dump, Gehenna was where worshippers of Maloch burned children as sacrifice. We just sacrifice their future. The ancient, primal elements of life—earth, air, fire, and water—are now riddled with toxins. We have yet to fully absorb the implications of that—because why would we want to? We are made of those elements, as a rag doll is made of cloth. We need them to survive. So we let ourselves hear “water” and think of pretty blue oceans, rushing streams, and clear tapwater—not microplastics, plastic debris, cadmium, mercury, lead, coliform bacteria, and petroleum hydrocarbons. We take a deep, satisfying breath without listing sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, factory emissions, or particulates from wildfires and wood smoke. “Earth” still suggests gardening, not a stew of heavy metals, phosphates, inorganic acids, pesticides, nitrates, polychlorinated biphenyls, detergents, and radionuclides.

Still, worry has scraped a little hollow in the back of my mind, a place where I tuck the latest news about methane gas, contaminated groundwater, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, grown so huge it has its own ecosystem. Feeling overwhelmed is starting to seem whiny and self-indulgent, like the character in a horror movie that goes into hysterics instead of helping the others fight the zombies. We are at war with a dystopian future, plain as that. Everyday life is a tiptoe through a land mine—but worse, because the bombs are ticking inside our bodies. Microplastics already lace our flesh. The garbage we nag our partners to take out has come inside.


Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.