Yesterday I had to take a load of “yard waste” to our local dump. Well, actually, not a dump per se: a “Solid Waste Transfer Facility.” “Yard waste” is a term for the casualties of Mrs Outdoorsman’s endless war on the plant kingdom. About twice a year she gets convinced that bushes in our yard are “overgrown” and have to be trimmed; out come the clippers and loppers, and lo, there is soon another truckload of “yard waste” for me to drive to the “Solid Waste Transfer Facility.”

It used to be the case that we had a true dump, i.e., a landfill where you could go and throw stuff away; but some years ago, the Powers That Be, in their infinite wisdom, decided that trucks driving directly to the landfill would never do. No, no, what was needed was a “Solid Waste Transfer Facility.” This would afford a priceless opportunity to spend more money and burn twice as much fossil fuel. So they built a huge building, into which the “solid waste” trucks come to dump their loads. Men driving bulldozers and backhoes then push this into a slot in the floor; more trucks lie in wait below there, into which the trash falls, and then it is taken to the landfill. So big trucks burning diesel fuel, which used to go directly to the landfill now “transfer” the “waste” to more diesel-burning trucks to carry it to the real landfill, 25 miles away. Nice trick, hey? All commercial trash hauling companies are required to use the “Solid Waste Transfer Facility” now rather than taking their loads directly to the landfill. So not only does this policy use twice as much fuel as before—because two trucks are involved, at least one of which has to make a 50-mile round trip—it allows the “Montgomery Regional Solid Waste Authority” to maintain a fine jobs program, funded by dumping fees and employing people who might otherwise be doing something else more productive. Isn’t this wonderful? It’s so much more “sustainable” than it was before, when only one truck was needed for each load. But, I digress.

The Solid Waste Transfer Facility (oh, what the hell, I’m just going to call it a “dump” anyway) is supposedly also a place where “recycleable” material goes. I have indeed seen trucks labeled “RECYCLEABLES ONLY” pull in and dump their loads, which are then shoved into the same slot in the floor as the presumably bad, non-recycleable, garbage goes. If there is a distinction made between these two classes of junk, I can’t imagine what it is; and I would bet a lot of money that it all ends up in the same place, i.e., the landfill. As for “saving the planet” and “being green,” the award shown here is absolute proof that the "Solid Waste Transfer Facility" does both despite using two trucks where one would do, and probably lumping trash and recycleables into the same pit. But again, I digress.

Not having one of those huge commercial trucks I have to bring my loads to a series of portals on the outside of the building, separated from the interior space by a low wall. I am most emphatically not allowed to drive my piddling little F-150 directly into the building; instead I cautiously back it up to one of the portals with the tailgate down, being careful not to bump it up too hard against the pads, lest it sustain any damage. I then get out, climb up onto the tailgate (at my age this requires a stepladder) and start shoveling and raking junk into the interior, whence the bulldozers come along and shove it into the slot.



The dump is an interesting place: it’s the next-to-last stop on the way to what will someday be a fantastically productive archeological dig detailing what life was like in 21st-Century rural/small town southwestern Virginia. Everything we own, sooner or later, ends up at the dump.

Construction/demolition materials, old furniture, bent birdcages, immense amounts of paper, empty food cans, old bits and oddments of kitchen equipment, plumbing scrap, remodeling trash, automobile parts, rugs, you name it. If it can be loaded into a truck—and what can’t be?—it goes to the dump. (Kitchen cabinets are common, though large appliances like washers and dryers, not to mention refrigerators and stoves, have their own special area.) There are even dead animals: I once saw a very, very dead cow off-loaded from a farmer’s trailer (he was allowed to drive into the building, while I was not) and shoved out unceremoniously onto the floor, more grist for the bulldozers’ mill. Down the slot that cow went, a sad victim of some sort of loathsome agricultural disease, with no form of farewell except the hooting and banging of the bulldozers. Ditto a few pigs. One day I saw a truck from a local deer-processing facility come in and dump hundreds of pounds of deer bones, skins, and hooves. I have yet to see a dead dog treated thus disrespectfully but I’m sure that’s because I wasn’t there when it happened.

The dump is noisy: very noisy. All the equipment has back-up alarms. Since the bulldozers and backhoes work in what is a fairly confined space they’re constantly moving around, back and forth, with their alarms bonging and bonging, clearly audible above the roar of their engines, those of the huge trucks, and the clattering, banging sound of trash—and of course recycleables—being offloaded. An endless cacophony of detritus being readied for the last trip to the colossal midden heap over which those archeologists of the future will have raptures.

When I drive into the dump my truck gets weighed; I am asked what I have: “clean brush” or “yard waste” or “trash.” “Clean brush” (whatever that may be) goes to a different place, whence it is ground into mulch to be sold to gardeners. That seems to be the only form of genuine recycling that takes place. Everything else that isn't "clean brush"—including dead animals—goes to the transfer station. On the way out I get weighed again, and pay for the privilege of “sustainability” by the ton. “Yard waste” doesn’t weigh much, though it’s very bulky. The load depicted above was only 140+ pounds. From time to time I’ve taken other stuff that weighed much more. A really heavy load in my truck might cost me $10-15; God alone knows what the big commercial trucks have to pay. By the way the dump only takes cash or checks, so I’m always asked how I plan to pay when I weigh in. I’m sure the commercial waste haulers must have some sort of charge account: no way could a trucker carry enough cash to cover 10,000+ pounds of stuff several times a day.

The dump is a sad place but it’s also a fascinating study of an industrial-level operation necessary in a consumer society based on the throw-it-away-and-buy-a-new-one principle. I suppose we have to do something with this stuff; 60-70 years ago if your air conditioner or TV set stopped working you brought it to a repair shop and put it back into service. No more. Today if your TV goes wonky, it’s off to Best Buy for a new one. For everything else there’s Wal-Mart, of course. The old item—whatever it may be—goes to the dump.

Our dump is not to be compared with the piles of waste on the outskirts of major cities, some of which approach the size of smaller planets. I used to ride AMTRAK between Washington DC and New York City; just before crossing the Hudson River the train would pass the stupendous dumps in Newark, NJ and environs. These covered hundreds of acres—square miles, perhaps—and were at least 60 feet high. It’s rumored that victims of The Mob are sometimes put into these places, never to be seen again, needless to say. Not even the bodies of Jimmy Hoffa or Judge Crater are worth moving a few cubic miles of garbage to dig up. But for all of that, the Montgomery County Solid Waste Authority has no need to hang its head: we here do what we can to uphold the honor of the dump.