By Nicholas Fonseca
Updated July 27, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Unable to quell her curiosity about where, exactly, her garbage was headed after her local ”san man” tossed it into his truck, Elizabeth Royte set off on a cross-country journey to scuzzy waterways, sewage-purifying plants, recycling facilities, and diaper-strewn landfills. As she wades through sludge-filled canals and a labyrinth of cranky, obstinate waste-management middlemen not unlike Tony Soprano, she finds that garbage is everywhere and nowhere at the same time; recycling, she admits in defeat, yields few environmental benefits and ”merely made it easier for individuals to keep consuming and discarding.” Royte recounts her adventures in detailed — if overearnest — prose that’s alive with observation in Garbage Land. But she can’t seem to shake the vague tone of helplessness that weighs this sometimes tedious book beneath a big, stinky pile of. . .guilt.