'There are stories in all our discarded things: who made them, what they meant to a person before they were thrown away. In the end, it all ends up in the same place – the endless ingenuity of humanity in one filthy, fascinating mass.'
When we throw things 'away', what does that actually mean? Where does it go, and who deals with it when it gets there? In Wasteland, award-winning journalist Oliver Franklin-Wallis takes us on an eye-opening journey through the global waste industry. From the mountainous landfills of New Delhi to Britain's overflowing sewers, from hollowed-out mining towns in the USA to Ghana's flooded second-hand markets, we meet the people on the frontline of our waste crisis – both those being exploited, and those determined to make a difference. On the way, we discover the corporate greenwashing that started the recycling movement; the dark truth behind our second-hand donations; and come face to face with the 10,000-year legacy of our nuclear waste.
Both shocking and hopeful, Wasteland is the timely and ultimately human story at the heart of an urgent global issue.
Oliver Franklin-Wallis is an award-winning magazine journalist, whose writing has appeared in GQ, WIRED, The Guardian, the New York Times, The Times Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Economist's 1843 magazine, and many other publications. He is currently the features editor of British GQ.
– A BBC Radio 4 book of the week
– One of The New Yorker's best books of 2023
– Included in The Guardian's best ideas books of 2023
"The book comes alive in its descriptions of people and places [...] Franklin-Wallis writes stylishly about ugly things [...] interesting and sobering [...] His book should prompt serious discussion in boardrooms and parliaments"
– The Economist
"Wasteland is so captivating. It is an unflinching account of the best and worst of us, related through the things we choose to discard. Franklin-Wallis has travelled extensively to tell the story of waste and the result is fascinating"
– Literary Review
"His eye for detail, honed over years of non-fiction writing, turns the abstract into the immediate – and the alarming [...] Part of what makes Wasteland so powerful is that it doesn't chide. Its strongest parts are when Franklin-Wallis walks with those contributing to, or affected by, the failures, injustices and complexities of dealing with waste [...] Wasteland isn't a comfortable read, but it's an important one"
– New Scientist
"Waste is a serious problem and also a curiously fascinating one. In this brilliant book, Franklin-Wallis goes into it up to his neck – so we don't have to! The result is a gripping read that will anger as much as it fascinates. There's lots we can all do to help, but he's right to conclude that it's government and business who really have to step up, and clean up"
– Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
"This is an incredible journey into the world of rubbish, full of fascinating characters and mind-bending facts. My relationship with garbage is never going to be the same"
– Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland and Butler to the World
"An urgent, probing and endlessly interesting investigation into our staggering wastefulness and the environmental crisis this is creating right under our noses. In Wasteland, Oliver Franklin-Walls offers us a behind the scenes guide to the processing plants, rubbish tips and refuse mountains that lurk in our back yards; the thundering machinery and skilled workers who strive tirelessly to relieve us of the spoils of our own profligacy. As he does so, he turns up rare treasures and unexpected beauties amid the junk and the mess. Tirelessly reported, it is a book both horrifying in its implications and gleefully hair-raising in the way it is told"
– Cal Flyn, author of Islands of Abandonment
"Shocking but essential reading"
– Tim Spector, author of Food for Life
"Superb. Oliver Franklin-Wallis' deep dive into our wasteful ways and dirty histories turns up a story that gleams with insight and promise. An urgent and vividly told exploration of the underside of modern life, Wasteland also reveals what a better future could look like. You'll never see trash the same way again"
– David Farrier, author of Footprints
"Just as everything we consume comes from somewhere on earth, so too everything we produce must go somewhere on earth – even if we don't want to think about it. This book compels us to. A fascinating, deeply researched and hugely important expose of what happens to the stuff we no longer want, and the social and environmental cost of dealing with it. Revelatory, thoughtful and honest about our complex relationship with waste."
– Gaia Vince, author of Nomad Century
"With his investigative chops and contagious curiosity, Oliver Franklin-Wallis has cracked wide a dozen hidden, jaw-dropping worlds [...] Yet despite its grim revelations, the book offers hope. For we can't begin to make things right until we understand the nuanced realities of what is wrong. Wasteland is compelling, smart, fair, often funny, always interesting, and just very important. Truly, it's the most impressive nonfiction I've read in quite some time"
– Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Animal Vegetable Criminal
"Wise, honest and unsparing, Wasteland will open your eyes to the reality of our throwaway society"
– Henry Mance, author of How to Love Animals
"[An] eye-opening investigation into the global waste crisis and recycling industry"
– Caroline Sanderson, Editor's Choice, Bookseller
"Sometimes it seems as if our main role as humans is to enjoy shiny things for a little while until they become discarded things. This is a fascinating and comprehensive tour of the second half of that equation – the tossed-out usually gets a thousandth the attention of the not-yet-purchased, but Oliver Franklin-Wallis does his best to redress that balance, in a book that wills you see the world quite differently than you did before"
– Bill McKibben, author The End of Nature