Tour #1: The Trash Trail

by Dennis Randall

Hop aboard the garbage truck and find out what happens to all of that junk!

Following the trash trail from the kitchen wastebasket to litter's final resting place can be a real trip. The first stop on our journey was the town's shining new transfer station (conveniently located next to the old landfill -- a.k.a. dump).

A transfer station is a fancy name for a place that collects a community's rubbish before shipping it off to a regional solid waste facility. Usually trash gets trucked to a landfill (high-tech dump) or incinerator plant. In our town, trash gets shipped to a huge trash-to-energy plant. And it's burned to produce electricity. Today's coffee grounds are converted into kilowatts -- which in turn power the coffee maker and produce yet more coffee grounds. Very efficient.

My wife's biggest problem was keeping me and the kids from dumpster diving for treasure. It's amazing how much great stuff folks get rid of.

Next we moved on to talk to the crew running the station. They were delighted to have a conversation with members of the public that didn't start out with a complaint about the price of dump stickers. After we explained what we were doing, the shift supervisor quickly agreed to give us a walking tour of the site. He was eager to explain each step in the process.

The transfer station super was something of an amateur anthropologist. "Trash tells the truth," he said, "and you can learn a lot about people by looking at the things they throw away. When times are good, people throw away perfectly adequate items just because they aren't new. The first year they came out with big screen TVs, we suddenly saw thousands of perfectly good sets getting tossed away. When microwave ovens were introduced a few years back, we were flooded with toaster ovens. And so it goes."

Some questions worth asking on the trash tour:

  1. What happens to all the stuff we throw away?
  2. How does a landfill work?
  3. How much waste is recycled?
  4. How are hazardous waste products such as old paint cans, tires, and used motor oil, processed?
  5. What can we do to reduce the amount of trash being thrown away?

Return to the tour's home page or click on one of the links below to continue on the journey:

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