Saturday, October 11, 2014

Brunch At The Dump, And Other Ruminations

It was foggy at the shop the other morning, and at my loading site toward the southern end of the county, and on the drive to the dump, which is about midway toward the northern end of the county. Mt. Trashmore itself was shrouded in fog, giving it a rather other-worldly appearance. The fog held the horrible fumes near the ground, whereas they’re usually somewhat dispersed by the near-constant breeze at that height. They burned my eyes and sinuses, and seemed to slightly affect my breathing. I was very thankful that things were running smoothly and that I was out again in a few minutes.

By 10:00, I was back with a second load, and stuck in a long line, near the summit of Mt. Trashmore, on the road to the dumping face in the pit. Eating breakfast as early as I do anymore, I also tend to get hungry again earlier than I used to. The fog had cleared and the breeze was keeping the volatile-smelling fumes down to a tolerable level, so I figured “why not?” So, I pulled a small container of my wife’s homemade chili from a plastic shopping bag, and a chunk of cheddar, a stack of crackers, and a bottle of water from my cooler/lunch box.

With a plastic spoon from a package I’d purchased on one of my back-county trips, I dug into my simple but welcome brunch. Looking out the passenger window, I could see the rolling West Virginia hills as they lay one after the other into blue oblivion. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant location, if you could ignore the still present (though weakened) fumes, the noise of idling diesel engines and the view out the DRIVER’S window. I’m the kind of fellow who can eat a sandwich while taking a break from shoveling cow manure, so it wasn’t a problem for me. My wife makes good chili, and my repast was delicious.

As I was eating, crows, Canada geese, wild turkeys, and pigeons searched the grassy fields of the “reclaimed” slopes for bugs for their own brunch, and grit for their craw.  Meanwhile, turkey vultures lazily sailed the thermals above the off-gassing mountain of clay-covered refuse, giving the scene a certain grace and peacefulness. (I wondered if they were catching a buzz up there.) The company that owns the landfill brags that they have 17,000 acres across the nation for wildlife, although they won’t let you hunt, fish, camp, hike or do bird-watching there.

I was glad that the critters were getting use from the grasslands, rather than scavenging the dump, although I’m not sure that anything they found there would be much safer than anything on the dump face. That thought had no more than crossed my mind when a short period of inactivity occurred at the dump face. Suddenly, every pigeon, crow and buzzard descended on the dump face in a frenzy of feeding on items that would gag most dogs. I couldn’t help but wonder if they weren’t ingesting some poisons along with their “food.” They’re like most of us, I suppose, willing to chance bad but easy food over good food that requires more effort. I hate it when animals act like people. I noticed the geese and turkeys kept at hunting more healthy things back in the grass. Good for them!

I had to wonder just what sort of fumes I was smelling since methane, what should be the predominate gas here, has no odor. When discussing it with the guru, he had this to say: “Most likely it is a mix of ammonia and/or hydrogen sulfide and what they call NMOCs (non-methane organic compounds) which come from decomposition of the garbage.  Too, around here, who knows what chemicals have been or are being dumped in the landfill?  The methane and NMOCs are volatile.  Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide and NMOCs smell and can be hard on the eyes. NMOCs come from trash such as household cleaning products, materials containing paints, painted materials, various adhesives like from the bottoms of trashed carpeting, tiles, etc., and other items including certain plastics, along with biological decomposition of organic objects and compounds into various gasses.” I hadn’t mentioned that sludge from drilling in Marcellus shale is mixed with sawdust and dumped there, and that the whole dump smelled like model airplane glue one morning.

There ARE pipes sticking up every 100 yards or so on the “reclaimed” areas and the shop there is heated with gas from the fill. Also, they have their own version of the eternal flame, with a standpipe near the entrance spouting flames 10-25 feet into the air. I don’t know why they don’t compress it and run their trucks with it, unless the mix is just too unpredictable. It seems such a waste not to put it to use.

Speaking of waste, I was negatively impressed by how much stuff is still going to the landfill. The amount of new and used lumber taken there is unbelievable to an ex-sawmill man like me. Also, I saw a surprising amount of metal and recyclable plastic there. With lumber prices what they are, I think there should be some sort of clearing house where wood scrap is brought and people can come in for free, or a SMALL fee and get materials for their projects and hobbies. Metal can be sold already, of course. Plastic? Well, there’s going to have to be some sort of financial incentive, negative or positive, for that to work. One thing that REALLY got me was the two cubic yards of compressed bundles of what appeared to be new, unused blanket material still on the bolt. With all the homeless folks we have in the area, and winter coming on……

With all the fumes coming up through the soil, I also wondered if lightning strikes ever set off explosions at landfills. Checking again with the guru, he said there have been a few, though nothing spectacular. Lightning caused dump fires aren’t that uncommon I guess, though.
One thing is for sure, we are a wasteful and unappreciative nation. A visit to the dump will show you that.

Incidentally, I soon finished my brunch, they fixed whatever the holdup was at the dump face, the foul fowl temporarily returned to healthier fair, and the line soon got to moving. Before long, I was back to hauling what would have made good fill somewhere, to a place where it will never be put to any use at all. Hey, it’s the American way! © 2014

For such a large operation, they keep an amazingly small face open, and are constantly hauling dirt and covering recently dumped areas. Click photo to enlarge.


Mamahen said...

It's a shame how much waste there is in this country....while as you said...there are many homeless or barley getting by that would be thankful to have what others discard without a second thought.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

I wonder what survives in the dump that will be dug up years later?

Ralph Goff said...

That kind of waste of materials really bothers me too. Its a good thing I don't live nearby or I'd be hauling truck loads home to use myself. Re-cycling is a life style for me.

Chickenmom said...

Our "dump" recycles the methane gas.
Everything is sorted, especially the plastic and tires. We are lucky, it is very well run. We make a stop there about every 6 weeks and it usually only costs us $10 or $12 each time. Roadside pick up would cost over $50 a month.

Gorges Smythe said...

Very true, Mh.

Well, Kathy, I'm sure glass, porcelain and some plastics will make it.

They don't allow that anymore, Ralph - safety and liability concerns I suspect.

I wish they did that here, Cm, and then used the remainder for co-generation.

M. Silvius said...

We used to have dumps like that around here but now they call them "recycling centers". Towns have sold off the trash collection services, and waste facilities to private enterprises who make money off the refuse. Just bout everything gets reused. At our local "dump" aka recycling center we have separate dumping bays for iron, aluminum, construction wood, glass, grass and leaves, brush, drywall, tires, roofing shingles, and so on. It is all valuable raw material that gets resold and repurposed. Up til recently even household organics went to a trash to energy plant that made electricity by burning the stuff. That was until the patchouli perfume tree huggers complained about the smell and made the town shut the plant down.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

They have hired a guy to go around our county to try and catch people taking things from dumpsters as well as putting things in the dumpsters in non-authorized bags. They put on a show talking about recycling and then go to extremes to punish anyone who takes something out of the trash.

Brian said...

Hey Gorges
Over here, not far from me we have the dump... Or landfill site they like to call it.. The gasses ooze out and on a calm day if the breeze is right we can get a nice whiff of the pungent stuff as we set foot outside.. Recently they built a big plant to recycle all the metal, plastic, paper etc...
But that only works when the folks put the garbage in the correct bin.. Which the didn't and still don't so the big plant that gave a good few jobs now has a big chain on the gate...
And all for the sake of sorting out some trash... A real shame in this day and age.... ;b

Gorges Smythe said...

It CAN be done, Michael, it just isn't most places.

As usual, SF, everything really just about power and money.

Brian, I don't think think that individuals burning trash cause any more pollution than the way the landfills do things. It's just a way to make some rich people richer. And ALL food scraps should be composted, though I can't even get my own wife to separate things properly.