“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 Stanislaw Lubienski 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 Lubienski 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.
Translated from the Polish by Zosia Krasodomska-Jones