Recently there was an uproar in my “home town” because the City decided to cut down on the number of trash barrels they would pick up. That’s fine when you are a typical American family of 2 children and 2 adults (wait: that was typical back in the 70s, but today…?) but amongst Orthodox Jews who might have 10 children and 2 parents, 2 barrels of trash is hardly reasonable. That said, I wonder how city dwellers would survive out here in the woods, where there is no trash pick up at all!
Our town dump is located 9 miles from our house, although it is no longer called “the dump.” Political correctness has hit even this remote corner of the woods; the proper term is “transfer station.” I guess it sounds more elegant for someone to say he works at the “transfer station” than “the dump.” It’s open for very limited hours, 4 days a week. With the cost of gas this week at $2.90, and bone-jarring gravel roads, it forces you to organize your errands so your forays are infrequent exercises in multi-tasking.
Towns handle refuse costs differently. In some places, you must purchase marked garbage bags from the Town Office, and that signifies your right to use a particular transfer station. The bags aren’t expensive, but it helps defray the cost of managing the transfer station, and people are more likely to limit the amount of trash they use if they have to pay for the bags.
Our town doesn’t use such a system; the maintenance budget for the transfer station comes solely out of our property taxes (which are quite low, I might add). I have a waste permit decal on my front windshield, courtesy of the Town Office; only residents of our town and two neighboring ones have the right to use our transfer station, and they must all have that blue waste sticker on their vehicles.
The dump is a well-organized paragon of recycling. As you drive through the gates, the paved avenue is a giant cul-de-sac. There are different sections for different kinds of trash. On your left, in a field, is a massive pile of brush. On your right is a tower of toilets.
Then comes the giant dumpster for broken furniture and soiled mattresses. On the left is a dumpster for common household garbage (food, diapers, plastic bags, and other non-recyclables). There is a pile for metal objects; another pile for building supplies. One dumpster is for old computers; another is for old televisions. There is a dumpster for mixed household recyclables (glass, cans, aluminum, paper). And finally there is the “nice” dumpster, where people throw household items in good condition that can be donated to poor families (clothes, kids’ bikes, decent furniture).
Weekends are the busiest days for the transfer station. Whereas in the city busy people might socialize when they run into one another at the supermarket, the place in rural Maine to catch up with your friends is at the transfer station.
By the way, plastic soda bottles do not get recycled at the transfer station. If you look at the plastic bottles you have at home, you will notice in fine print the $.05 deposit refund that is redeemable in Maine. There are special “redemption centers” throughout Maine (and in most supermarkets) but the process is tedious. The bottles are fed through a machine (that often jams or breaks) which reads a bar code, so the bottles cannot be crushed. This means that you must lug a garbage bag-sized load of empty uncrushed soda bottles each time you set out for the market, which is not often because the redemption center/market closest to my house is 45 minutes away. As a result, we have mostly stopped buying soda, relying on the delicious pure mountain water from our well to quench our thirst, which is surely a healthier alternative.
Still, it’s no fun to have a load of stinky garbage riding in the car for 10 miles (most people use their pickup trucks), nor is it fun to leave trash in the house until dump day (we can’t leave it outside due to marauding bears, raccoons, and fisher cats, a vicious mink-like animal). So the goal is to limit one’s trash as much as possible, which means rethinking entirely the way you shop and consume goods. Whenever I go to the supermarket now, I look at the packaging as much as I do the product. Newspapers are saved and rolled, to be used as fire starters for our wood stove. Vegetable peels, fruit, eggshells and coffee grounds are thrown into a closed-barrel composter 75′ from our front door. Granted there are only two people in our household, but I’m nevertheless pleased we’ve managed to cut down our non-recyclable trash load from the three bags a week we used when we first came, to only one bag per week currently. Even knowing that most of the trash is disposed of or headed for landfill, it’s a wake-up call to see trash dumped in the beautiful woods that is our transfer station. We don’t really have a visual connection to trash when we live in a city, but it’s gotta go somewhere. When that somewhere is up close and personal, it makes one want to take a little more responsibility for creating it, and feel a little twang of guilt for being part of that defilement.