Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nostalgia #6

Long, long ago, when I was a kid, going to the garbage dump used to be an eagerly anticipated family event. Back then, the dump attendants didn't mind if you plowed through piles of garbage looking for cool stuff. To us kids, going to the dump was like a massive treasure hunt.
There were the regulars, too, people who went to the dump on a routine basis, looking for things they could take home and fix up for personal use or to sell. They collected broken lamps, tricycles, clothing, chairs, hubcaps, knick-knacks, record albums . . . you name it. It's astonishing the amount of stuff people threw away that had nothing wrong with it.

There aren't that many open-air, dump-on-the-ground, garbage dumps left, and that's a good thing. Nowadays the handling of garbage has gone high-tech. For one thing, recycling has helped reduce the amount of garbage thrown away each year. Many dumps have been turned into solid waste transfer stations, where garbage is hauled away. Sanitary landfills now have liners to prevent contamination of ground water. They have systems to collect the methane gas generated by rotting garbage. Liquid leachate is collected and sprayed back onto the garbage to hasten decomposing. Some landfills use gigantic 59-ton trash compactors. Others incinerate their trash. Still others bury garbage with tons of dirt, compressing the garbage so much that they gain an extra 30-40 feet of depth when they scrape off the dirt 6 months later to add more garbage.

New York City produces 25,000 tons of garbage every day, which they send to other states and cities. Americans produce 330 million tons of garbage every year. Thankfully, people are becoming more diligent about recycling. Now that I recycle, I only have to go to the dump once or twice a year, with a brown grocery bag full of unrecyclable/unburnable trash. The rest is recycled. And while I love the idea of being a greenie, I have to confess to a nostalgic longing for the fun and excitement of the garbage dump days of my childhood. Which is probably why I still love flea markets and garage sales.

What about you? As a kid did you know your garbage men? Did you ever go to the dump? Did you ever remove a treasured something from the garbage that your mom had thrown away?

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