"Everything looked perfect. Sand – unique Baltic sand, the best in the world – and the calm sea. But wait. Something was amiss. Something was wrong"
It starts with a day at the beach. A single white sock that somehow spoils everything. It's enough to send writer and ornithologist Stanisław Łubieński on a quest to understand what we throw away, where it goes and whether it will be our legacy.
By analysing items he unearths on his trips into nature – a plastic bottle, a tube of Russian penis-enlargement cream, a cigarette butt, an empty aerosol can – tracing their origins and explaining the harm they can do, he shows how consumer society has developed out of control, to the point of environmental catastrophe.
He also looks with a birdwatcher's eye at how various animals have come to adapt to and even rely on our rubbish, and interrogates the cultural significance of waste and the origins of our throw-away lifestyles. Finally, he adds a personal touch by examining his own "environmental neurosis" and by going out with refuse crews to watch them work.
While Łubieński never hectors his readers, nor shames them, his clear-eyed, persuasive and humble polemic reminds us what we, as individuals, can and cannot do to address an apocalyptic issue while there's still something worth saving.
Originally published in 2020 in Polish as Książka o Śmieciach by Agora.
Stanisław Łubieński, born in 1983, is an esteemed ornithologist and writer. A regular contributor to newspapers and magazines, he is the co-author of a series of films about the life of migrants in Warsaw. His previous book, The Birds They Sang about his experiences as an amateur ornithologist, was published in English translation in 2020 by Westbourne Press. In Poland it won the readers' vote for the Nike award 2017.
"Beautifully written and impeccably researched, this profoundly significant book digs deep into the world of waste and is a stark reminder of human impact on our planet. Fascinating, eye-opening and deeply thought-provoking – a hugely important and utterly compelling work"
– Tracey Williams, author of Adrift: The Curious Tale of the Lego Lost at Sea
"This is only outwardly a book about trash. In fact, it is a sad and bitter report on the current state of the world"
– Gazeta Wyborcza
"There's no hiding the fact that for most of us reading this book will be a lesson in preparing for the apocalypse, and a brutal stripping away of our illusions [...] But if we then sink into 'ecological neurosis', it's a sign that we're on the right path to liberating the Earth from the tyranny of trash"