My town has a trash problem. This probably isn’t much of a secret to anyone who has spent any time here. Old couches appear in vacant lots around the city, garbage bags filled with residential waste form piles in the forest under the cover of darkness and broken CRT television sets roam the ditches. It’s to the point now that we are ashamed to bring guests to our mountain bike trails – in fact, there are trails we no longer ride because we can stand to see another pile of garbage.
Maybe it’s a red herring, but I have a theory that it’s the complexity of our garbage, recycling and compost programs that are contributing to this problem. The refuse that our household generates on a weekly basis is disposed of in five different containers at three different destinations. “Garbage Day” is based around a rolling schedule – meaning that on a random day once a week some combination of two bins need to be taken to the end of the driveway. To be fair, it’s not quite that arbitrary, but it does require a calendar and it’s not as simple as Thursday is always “Garbage Day”, which gives people consistency and decreases the likelihood of forgetting. There are strict size and weight limits on each bin and if glass inadvertently ends up in your recycling bin, you risk having the entire contents of the bin left behind with an angry note. We’re stubborn, so we fix the problem, try to learn from it and put the acceptable contents out two weeks later.
In addition to the garbage, recycling and compost that is collected from our home, we also drop off cans and bottles for refund at one location and glass jars, styrofoam and milk containers at another. That’s right, the count is now up to three different locations. Fortunately, old electronics and small amounts of yard waste can be disposed of as the same location as glass jars. Thanks to a levy on all new products, electronics can be dropped off for free. By the number of free-range CRTs around town, I can only assume that this fact hasn’t been properly communicated.
The fourth drop-off location is for wood waste, but it’s poorly marked and not open Sundays. Five is the landfill, which is at the far end of town and has a strict gatekeeper whose job description includes scolding individuals who bring wood products and ensuring that only appropriate amounts and types of drywall are disposed of. The best part of the landfill drop off is the dozen or so numbered dumpsters – each intended for a different type of product. Although the intention is good, this system is a serious bottleneck that increases, by at least an order of magnitude, the amount of time I want to spend at the landfill.
“Garbage Day” used to refer to the day that the trash was picked up. Now it refers to the entire day spent sorting and transporting our garbage to the five different locations where it will be landfilled, recycled or burned. Is this the new reality of our ecologically-sensitive communities? Given the complexity of the system, it’s no surprise that individuals are looking for alternatives.
Still, what I can’t wrap my head around is the mindset of someone who drives a truck full of garbage out to a forest and drops it in the middle of a mountain bike trail. I don’t understand how this happens. Who are these people? Does this happen elsewhere? Not that I would, but if I were going to illegally dump garbage, I’d do so it near a dumpster in a dark alley where at least it’s easy for someone else to clean up.
The town’s roots are around logging. The majority of undeveloped land is owned by forestry companies. Is it possible that this land is already seen as already destroyed? Maybe that pile of old magazines, the broken lamp and the 1985 football trophy doesn’t change the value of the land. It’s always worth nothing because the original trees have long since been cut down and those that were replanted will be cut down again soon.
Progress is being made. First the first time, charges were laid but then the suspects failed to appear in court. Groups are using social media to call attention to the situation and to rally clean-up crews.
Maybe I need to forget trying to figure out why and join in the clean-up.