Posts Tagged ‘trash’

Simple Pleasures: The Spirit of Giving

A few weeks ago, my eldest grandson, 14, came to Maine to spend some time with us.  One day he accompanied me to the transfer station (a nice word for “The Dump”).  There is no garbage pickup in rural Maine; our local transfer station, about 8 miles away, is open several times a week during set hours and that’s where town residents haul their recyclable and regular trash.

When we went over to the dumpster that holds recyclable trash, my grandson noticed a few new-looking baseball cards sitting on a bunch of discarded corrugated cardboard.  He asked me if I would allow him to climb in the (clean) dumpster and take the cards.

“I think we’d better ask the guys who run the dump,” I answered.  Mostly I was concerned for my grandson’s safety – – I didn’t want them to not know my grandson was rummaging around in the dumpster, only to turn on the compactor and cause a horrific accident.

“You want the cards?  Sure!  Go ahead in and get ’em,” the transfer station employee said.  “And if you’d like me to start saving cards for you, just let me know,” he added.

The worker told us that one of the local residents makes “a little money on the side” by trading baseball cards.  He travels around New England, going to yard sales, auctions, and searching through Craigslist ads looking for baseball cards, which he buys in bulk.  He then goes through the stacks and stacks of cards, quickly filtering out 3 to 10 cards out of hundreds that have collectible value in today’s market.  The rest, he brings to the dump.

“I’ll save the cards for you if you want ’em,” the worker told us.  “Just say the word.”  Sure, I answered, we’d take whatever cards he’d scrounge up.  I didn’t think anything more about it.

A couple of weeks went by and my grandson returned home.  When I next ventured to the dump, the worker scurried towards me, carrying three cardboard boxes.

“I’ve been saving cards for you,” he said.  “And I’ll keep saving them until you tell me to stop,” he added.  I had forgotten about our conversation, but the transfer station worker had not.

I opened one of the boxes.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Each box contained at least 1,000 mint-condition baseball and football cards:  3,000 cards!

The initial three boxes of cards saved for me by the worker at the dump.  All were in clean, mint condition.

The initial three boxes of cards saved for me by the worker at the dump. All were in clean, mint condition.

Thanks to this transfer station worker’s kindness, I was now eligible for the World’s Best Savta (Grandmother) Award.  This is not an easy distinction when you’re talking about preteen and teen-aged boys for whom grandparents are most definitely not, in the ordinary sense of the word, “cool.”

I was so excited!  Thanking the worker multiple times  (and yes, I always bake him goodies every year during Christmas season, and make sure to ask him how his fishing and hunting are coming along in the Summer and Fall), I placed the boxes in the back of my car, imagining my grandsons’ faces when I presented them with the cards upon my return to my hometown.  This was definitely a case of one person’s trash being someone else’s treasure.  I emailed my kids, alerting them to my plans.

“Just got a boatload of discarded mint condition baseball cards for the boys.  Should keep them busy for hours!”

“Oh, no!”  was my children’s reply.  “More stuff!” they railed.  “Just one more thing to have to clean up after!” they groaned.  “We already have enough messes!”

“Spoken like a true parent,” I replied.  “When did you guys get so old and tired?  You don’t sound like my kids; you sound like I used to sound when you were little!  Just remember how much you used to love collecting these cards when you were kids,” I added with a dose of Jewish Mother guilt-tripping.

So with Chanuka coming, my husband and I drove down to our home town, and presented the cards to two sets of grandsons, boys ages 6 thru 14.  “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!”  “THANK YOU SO MUCH!” “WOW!” “Savta, YOU ROCK!” “AWESOME!” “BEST! PRESENT! EVER!” were some of the reactions.  For the next six hours the boys got busy sorting the 3,000 cards.

Some of the grandsons sorting 3,000 baseball and football cards.  Their mother was convinced she'd never get her table back.

Some of the grandsons sorting 3,000 baseball and football cards. Their mother was convinced she’d never get her table back.

I have no idea if they found any treasures; for all I know these cards are totally worthless.  But for six hours (and four hours the following day), there was only joy:  no fighting, no sibling rivalry; the boy cousins had yet another bonding experience; and, completely free of charge and thanks to the simple kindness of my local dump worker in Maine . . .  I was the best Savta in the whole world.

Happy New Year to all!


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.

The 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.