The Dump

IMG_7587

Larry and I were recently at our county’s Central Transfer Station – that’s a fancy name for dump. Larry had been before, but I had never had the pleasure. When we drove in, we stopped at the guardgate and were happily directed to the “tunnel, all the way to the right.”

It wasn’t as obvious as it sounded.

We accidentally drove down the wrong tunnel. There are three tunnels, the one on the far right was our intended destination to drop off old paint cans, chemicals and a few electronics as we continue to purge, but somehow we drove down the center lane. It was creepy. There was a giant dump truck open on the top, and it was receiving trash from a trap door, the size of a car, above it. It felt like we were on secret property, like we might get caught and questioned in this smelly, putrefying place lit sickly green by fluorescent bulbs. But no one paid any attention to us. We drove out as if we were getting away with something, quickly but calmly.

Once outside, there were people moving things from here to there, county vehicles and random pavilions and no one paid any attention to us. A left turn would take us back to our starting point so we could try this again.

IMG_7586On our second try we found the correct tunnel. It was fastidious – for a dump. There were giant signs for each type of contaminant and pallets beneath them neatly stacked with items homeowners, just like us, had placed in rows. To the right there were what looked like huge walk-in freezers each with its own warning: Flammable, Poison, Corrosive, Oxidizer. When there was no obvious place for electronics, I hailed an official looking person and he pointed further down the line. There, a large old TV was placed nearly in the way with nothing but static and the letters TVs painted on the screen in bright red.

My imagination melded Poltergeist with Ghost Whisperer and I saw the letters written in the blood of a dead man from inside the screen as a clue to his demise. Imagination is not always helpful.

The gentleman overseeing this part of the operation was neatly dressed in something like a mechanic may wear. He was affable and chatting with someone else in this trash tomb. There seemed to be a sense of pride in his work and the place was pretty immaculate – at least in this area – but still it had a stench.

I don’t ever want to go back there. But, if I am a responsible homeowner I will. I don’t expect us to have any more chemicals, but there will be paint cans and electronics and I will not add toxic waste to an already overtaxed landfill.

Do you ever fly? Have you flown over any mountains, in particular over the western United States where they are mostly scrubby and bare? You can really see how they came to be. I’m always mesmerized by the way Mother Earth has shaped (and continues to shape) herself. It’s plain to see how the mountains grew, pushed up and together by shifting plates and how they were shaped by wind and water. It’s so obvious. And beautiful.

Then flying over farmland, especially in the north-east, the earth is blanketed with a patchwork quilt of crops from small farms. Rows neatly planted, some dark green, others brown, but all planted with care. I’m always amazed by the neatness of it all.

But then there are the bodies of unrealistic milky green-blue water and endless crops of the same thing. There are landfills will tiny chimneys placed every so often, very strategically, to allow all the gasses from trash to escape so they don’t explode, I’m guessing. There are rows of buildings that house livestock and waterways cut into the landscape for irrigation where nothing is supposed to grow and to move toxic waste to, where?

I often wonder if it hurts. Mother Earth that is. What does it feel like to have so much foreign matter inserted subcutaneously? And the weird water, does that burn? Are the fields of frankencrops like eczema? Do the islands of plastic in the oceans feel like digestive blockages? Or tumors?

What have we done? And how can we do better?

This field trip was eye-opening. It’s not that I don’t know there is a copious amount of trash out there, I pass two landfills on my way south to visit friends, but that I am contributing to this at all makes me very sad. We’re recyclers (and soon to be composters) but that’s not enough. We have to be more mindful on the front end, about what we bring in. Just the other day I opted for two containers of cut up watermelon instead of the wedge I normally by. They were a bogo and less expensive for the same amount of watermelon. BUT, now I have two plastic containers that I will throw in the recycle bin and hope they make it somewhere to be melted and used again, when I could have tossed a rind back into nature.

It’s catching these things, being present while making buying decisions, that is the work. I have what I have and now that we’re digging in and purging in earnest, it’s helpful to see where we were awake and mindful and what we need to work on.

The lessons and process continues.

Waste Not

img_4436

I’ve been thinking a lot about trash lately. Mostly how much I produce. How many bags go out per week, how full my recycling bin is, stuff like that.

And then I wondered how different my choices would be if I had to pay or be responsible for this trash. I am already paying for its removal, as are you, it’s one of those line items in your “City of…” bill or it’s built into your rent, so paying for it is covered.

But what if I had to do something with my trash and recycles? What if I couldn’t just put them at the curb and smile in satisfaction at my clean home?

Let’s play a game… Let’s pretend we’re going grocery shopping for one day of food on the SAD (Standard American Diet).

In our basket we may find:

  • 1 box of cereal
  • 1 gallon of milk
  • 1 quart of orange juice
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 loaf of bread
  • package of smoked turkey lunch meat
  • package of American cheese
  • 1 jar of mayonnaise
  • 1 box of single serving chips
  • 1 apple in a plastic bag
  • 1 box of Hostess treats
  • 1 package of hotdogs
  • 1 package of buns
  • 1 squeeze bottle of mustard
  • 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup
  • 1 jar of pickles
  • 1 jar of baked beans
  • 1 container of potato salad
  • 1 12 pack of soda
  • 1 gallon of ice cream

First of all, bleck! For your health’s sake, please eat some greens!! But moving on. Let’s take a look at the waste produced just in the packaging.

  • 1 box of cereal – cardboard box, wax paper insert
  • 1 gallon of milk – plastic jug, plastic lid
  • 1 quart of orange juice – plastic bottle, plastic lid
  • 1 dozen eggs – Styrofoam container
  • 1 loaf of bread – plastic bag, plastic tie
  • package of smoked turkey lunch meat – plastic container/wrapper
  • package of American cheese – plastic wrapper(s)
  • 1 jar of mayonnaise – plastic jar, plastic lid
  • 1 box of single serving chips – cardboard box, plastic wrap, plastic bags
  • 1 apple in a plastic bag – plastic bag
  • 1 box of Hostess treats – cardboard box, plastic wrap for each treat
  • 1 package of hotdogs – plastic wrapped
  • 1 package of buns – plastic bag, plastic tie
  • 1 squeeze bottle of mustard – plastic bottle, plastic lid
  • 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup – plastic bottle, plastic lid
  • 1 jar of pickles – glass jar, metal lid
  • 1 jar of baked beans – tin can with rubber lining
  • 1 container of potato salad – plastic container
  • 1 12 pack of soda – cardboard box, aluminum cans
  • 1 gallon of ice cream – wax coated cardboard

Now let’s say you were going to throw all of this away in one day. A lot of it could go into your recycling bin, but not all. Those lids for mustard, ketchup, pickles, etc. are usually not recyclable. Many plastic bags cannot be recycled. Styrofoam egg containers, maybe. The cardboard can typically be composted or recycled, in some municipalities.

All this sounds like good news! What’s the problem?

The problem is only about 35% of people actually recycle and only a percentage of that gets recycled. There’s too much. Recycling is a business and if there is no need for more of your trash it gets turned away. Where do you suppose it goes?

What if you had to separate all of your recyclables and take them to their individual recycling places and pay to have them recycled? What if there were no service to just pick them up? Would you make different choices?

Let’s take a look at our shopping list one more time and consider some more environmentally friendly choices that may actually be healthier for our bodies as well.

  • 1 box of cereal – purchase in bulk (purchase reusable cloth bags to buy dry items in bulk)
  • 1 gallon of milk – make your own almond milk, super easy, no waste, store in a reusable glass bottle
  • 1 quart of orange juice – buy loose oranges and squeeze your own, compost the peels, nothing like fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 dozen eggs – ceramic containers are available and doesn’t everyone have a backyard chicken now? Purchase from a farmer’s market or friend, bring your own reusable container
  • 1 loaf of bread – bake your own, or let go of gluten for a while and use lettuce to wrap your sandwiches
  • package of smoked turkey lunch meat – purchase from a deli that uses paper to wrap meat and ask them to put it in your reusable glass container or washable cloth bag
  • package of American cheese – see above
  • 1 jar of mayonnaise – make your own, it’s easy and fresh
  • 1 box of single serving chips – you don’t need chips, pick up some bulk nuts
  • 1 apple in a plastic bag – ditch the plastic bag, you’re going to wash the apple anyway
  • 1 box of Hostess treats – you don’t need these either
  • 1 package of hotdogs – no, but if you must, again, get them from a deli that will wrap in paper
  • 1 package of buns – go bunless or wrap in lettuce or purchase from a bakery that will wrap in paper or use your bag
  • 1 squeeze bottle of mustard – make your own or buy an organic brand in glass – save the glass container
  • 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup – make your own, easy and fresh
  • 1 jar of pickles – you can make your own but if you’re buying glass and saving it, you get a pass
  • 1 jar of baked beans – choose a brand that doesn’t line their cans or make your own
  • 1 container of potato salad – make your own, grandma must have an amazing recipe
  • 1 12 pack of soda – just no
  • 1 gallon of ice cream – on a hot summer day make your own, this is a treat

We have ended up with a few glass containers we can reuse, paper than can be composted and maybe one tin can. Don’t you feel better?

The time it would take to make all of this from scratch is probably the same amount of time it would take to sort through all your trash and drive it to separate recycling facilities and pay to have it recycled.

Precycle. Plan ahead. Consider where the packaging will go when you make your purchases.

  • Purchase a few glass jars that seal tightly to hold bulk dry goods like rice, cereal, nuts, etc.
  • Pick up a variety of sizes of cloth draw string bags for bulk foods and produce.
  • Save all the glass containers that are already in your pantry to use for other purposes.

Set waste goals. Find a container that seems like an acceptable amount of waste and notice how long it takes to fill it. Continually try to beat your last record, slower and less.

There are so many great resources out there and inspiring people doing great things. Here are a few:

Website with tons of ideas: www.bezero.org

Website: www.trashisfortossers.com

Article with statistics: harmony1.com