In my town, we still call it "the dump," even though it’s no longer a final resting place for trash, but a “transfer station,” where residents deposit trash and recyclables into containers that then get transported to appropriate destination sites.
In our household, we make a game of seeing how few trips we need to make to the dump. So, most anything that rots ends up in some form or another in one of the vegetable gardens. Kitchen scraps and yard waste become compost. Most of the discarded paper that doesn’t end up as weed-suppressing mulch between our garden beds moves first through the woodstoves as firestarters, with the resulting ashes spread on lawn and gardens to help raise the soil pH. We buy in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Etc.
But the dump serves as an important social center, and we enjoy our visits there. Neighbors chat, chortle, and grumble about gardens, politics, families, vacations, the weather, and more as we move among the various receptacles for trash, aluminum cans, steel and plastic containers, paper, glass, and construction debris.
We toss scrap metal items on the ground, where they will collect into a mountain of metal before being baled into giant cuboids and shipped off to recycling markets. We leave still-useable items at the small building we call the “Free Mall.”
For frugal folks like us, the town dump gives as much as it receives--maybe more. The manager has never discouraged dump-picking, except for aluminum cans, which generate revenue for the town.
Over the years, I’ll bet I’ve recycled a ton or more of cardboard pulled from the paper container to use as weed-suppressing mulch. Discarded carpets and rugs serve a similar purpose. Stair runners are especially good for preventing grass and weeds from growing under the low electric fencing that keeps woodchucks out of our veggies.
I always give the metal pile close scrutiny. Stuff I’ve found there: a lawn-mower tire, an almost-new pressure-canner I used for years, a metal laundry rack (that I also press into service for drying herbs, garlic and onions; see photo), and the six homemade wire tomato cages that currently support a heavy crop of Defiant tomatoes.
Among the many items we’ve scrounged from the mall: several colorful ceramic coffee and soup mugs, numerous children’s toys (including a Big Wheel tricycle in great shape), many books, two cast-iron skillets, and a collection (but not a set) of stainless-steel cooking pots, most of them with handles and lids intact.
If you were ready to start canning this season and were rummaging through the mall last Saturday, you could have found several dozen clean and perfect glass canning jars to take home and put to immediate use.
Americans are the most wasteful people on the planet. We generate around five pounds of household trash per person each day, at an aggregate cost of many billions, not counting the health and environmental costs.
A market economy based on growth seems to mandate ever-increasing volumes of waste. I’ve read many books/papers by folks advocating all sorts of business models and policy options they say could create a “zero waste” society with robust, continuous growth. I’m not all that optimistic about the prospects of getting there any time soon.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.