Now that we live in a small town of about 75 people we have to think about a lot of things we didn’t have to consider before. Life in an RV made us think carefully about disposing of our body waste and conserving water and disposing of waste water. The solar panels on the RV made us acutely aware of energy costs. We never really had to think about garbage before and now we do.
The garbage dump for the town is open two days a week. The fellow who runs it alternates between our dump and three others. You arrive with your stuff and he directs you to the appropriate piles. All recyclable plastics go on one pile. They get put into huge white sacks and when enough is collected it goes off to be turned into stuff like playground underlay and patio furniture. Another pile is for scrap metal. This pile has everything from old refrigerates to stuff like the old chunk of iron that came up when my garden was rototiller. (Apparently my garden was once a black smith shop.) Aluminum cans get special treatment because we pay an environmental tax on the them and that feeds a bounty for aluminum cans once they are released into the wild. Glass goes into yet another pile. There is a place for newspaper. There is a large pile for “burnables” which is all those odds and ends that don’t pack well for paper recycling but are burnable including tree limbs and dry yard waste. Finally everything else goes into the landfill. This is a large mound you back your truck up to, and toss off a low cliff. It is always smokey because there is constant spontaneous combustion. With my asthma I stay away and Dick carries our bag up.
The fellow who works in the dump does not help you put your stuff in the correct pile. His job is to process organized piles, pack them for sale and to keep the tractor going that piles the dirt a bit at a time over the mound of fresh garbage. He also burns the burnable pile when it is big enough and conditions are right. Today we arrived to find him scouring the outer edges of the dump and picking up blown stuff, mostly plastic grocery bags.
After our first trip we bought an easy to handle three chamber recycling bag with strong handles that lets us sort as we dispose and works very nicely as you carry the stuff to the appropriate piles on dump day. The entire process has hit me on two things. Two of these realization are about garbage that you always knew, but only now really understand.
We produce an enormous amount of trash. We are a consumer society and so we consume and dispose. Being the one to have to physically carry the stuff to the piles really makes you aware of packaging and consumption. I’ve found myself eyeing stuff in the grocery store in terms of how much I have to carry to the dump. I am going to get a composter because a lot of it I can recycle myself into my garden.
The second thing is plastic grocery bags. The entire dump is covered with them and they dance around in the place from fence to fence. They are utterly useless. You can’t collect them to recycle them. They take forever to degrade. They hang on the trees and the grass only partly confined by the fence around the dump. Some occasionally escape to blow across the prairie. I wonder how many from Alonsa have ended up in the ocean to be eaten by sea turtles who sicken and die on them. I knew all this, but seeing it is totally different. I have always been proud of how I carefully collect and reuse my grocery bags, carry cloth bags to most places, but now I realize I am not doing enough. I need to get rid of all the plastic bags in my life.