"Trash is a bit like birds. Both have their favourite habitats. I thought it might be worth taking a closer look at what we throw away and what it says about us. To follow the journey of the items we buy and discard. I wanted to find out more about what they're made of and what fate the future has in store for them."
It starts with a day at the beach. A single white sock in the sand that somehow seems to spoil everything. It's enough to send Polish reporter and ornithologist Stanisław Łubieński on a quest to understand what we throw away, where it goes and whether it will be our lasting 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, their destination and the harm they can do, he shows how our consumer society has developed out of our 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 the rubbish we pollute their environment with, and at the cultural significance of trash and rubbish and the origins of our throw-away society. And in the finest Gonzo traditions, he inserts himself into his narrative by examining his own "environmental neurosis" and by going out with refuse crews to watch them work.
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"