It may seem, especially to those wary of 'radical' environmentalists, that all the fuss about the mountains of garbage we produce is just so much propaganda by extremists. As someone who has visited actual landfills, I beg to differ.
Before my first visit to a landfill, we treated trash like everybody else. We put it into black plastic bags and then into the trash can for pickup. It thereafter went, so we supposed, to a magic, hidden destination where it disappeared for good. Out of sight; out of mind.
Things changed when, having moved out to rural southeastern Ohio, we tried to make a go of a more agrarian way of life, to which I would add my writing for financial support. This, I quickly found out, was not the way to become rich. We had to be very careful with our money, which fit well with my wife’s frugal character.
Garbage collectors charge extra money for throwing away large items, like rolls of old wire, hopelessly broken press-board furniture, dead appliances, and seedy couches. So, we threw the junk in the bed of my beloved Ford F-150 truck, and off I went with my eldest son to the local landfill.
If you have never been to an actual landfill—never seen the acres and acres of ugly and malodorous detritus daily cast off by our consumerism, never smelled the suffocating rot in the air, never ridden across a quarter-mile road of smashed bottles, decaying food, soiled diapers, and shards of particle board to get to the designated dump site, never hastily unloaded your own contribution to the wasteland, and never run your eye down the endless line of railroad cars filled to overflowing and waiting to unload—you really should. You really, really should.
It was difficult enough having to take that first safari through a landfill, but I remember that we soon got another angle on trash. Sitting out behind our log cabin one day, we smelled a particularly nauseating odor bathing our bucolic back yard. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I discovered the source when I came upon a one-hundred-plus car railroad train that was parked on the tracks about a mile from our house. It was resting there while the other similarly laden trains jostled for position to get into the landfill where I’d also dumped my own excess.
Then it hit me full-force! Those trains I’d previously seen at the landfill weren’t from around our environs. As I found out, with a little research, Apex Landfill was shipping these tons and tons of trash in every day, train after train, hundreds and hundreds of cars from all over the eastern United States. We were privileged to enjoy the rotting of New York City’s garbage in our own backyard—garbage that had disappeared like magic from NYC streets.
Garbage is big business, but it doesn’t magically disappear. It’s in someone else’s back yard. I know. I’ve had it in mine. It is not rendered invisible. It is deeply repulsive, and makes one immediately ashamed of having thrown out so much crap.