For twenty seconds, it felt like the opening scene of a CSI episode, only real. Very, unnervingly, real. A sudden flood of adrenaline jolted my heart as my mind frantically tried to rationalize what I was seeing in the driver’s side mirror. I had just reversed our utility trailer full of roots and dirt into a bare strip of earth between two rows of trash at the city dump. After shifting the transmission to park, I reached for the door handle and froze as my eyes delineated a human limb protruding from a garbage bag just to our rear. I yelled for my son to wait in a voice both stern and anxious. He complied, confused by my sudden outburst.
I took a few deep breaths as prophecies ripe with choppers, police, and journalists careened through my mind before willing myself to open the door. With each fearful step towards the bag my first impression gained sickening credence. I really had found a body, in a dump, just like on every single cop show ever. It wasn’t until I stood directly above the bag that the waxen complexion and too pink pigmentation triggered a realization that this human limb looked a little bit fake. A little bit like … and then a flood of relief and an embarrassed chortle. I understood, finally, I was staring at a piece of manikin.
Such are the joys of visiting the dump. Potential excitement and adventure await every trip. No wonder kids, particularly sons, are so keen to go along on trips to the dump. It’s practically a field trip to a museum where the exhibits change by the hour.
There was a time when the local dump was a pre-digital age Kijiji and everything was free. Our t-bar clothesline at home was retrieved from the dump. People regularly threw everything out back then and so people regularly went treasure hunting at the dump. One man’s junk really was another man’s treasure.
Nowadays, such means of acquisition are frowned upon, or outlawed completely. As such, even fewer people visit the dump. I imagine there are multitudes of citizens who will never once visit or even pass by a landfill of any kind. The closest they will get to our modern waste disposal world will be hauling garbage cans to the end of their drive or tossing bags into a dumpster. This is a shame. Every one of us would benefit from a visit to a dump at least once in their lifetime. It’s the field trip that every adult should be forced to take. Probably annually.
I’ve been to our city dump a handful of times over the years, opting to dispose of large accumulations of junk myself rather than pay significantly higher cost of having a junk service do so. My kids love going with me and it makes for an odd, but enjoyable, adventure together. It also compels them, and me, to confront an ugly truth about the society in which we live. We throw out a LOT of stuff.
You really can’t comprehend the volume of waste we produce until you’ve spent thirty minutes unloading a utility trailer full of debris while all around you a steady parade of pickup trucks, dump trucks, and garbage trucks arrive, discard their loads, and depart. And this parade happens EVERY … SINGLE … DAY of the year. In EVERY … SINGLE … TOWN/CITY in the nation. Across the continent. Around the Western world.
Think of it this way, unless it was eaten, nearly every single “thing” ever made has ended up in a dump. Consider how many items are sold in your typical big box store, be it hardware or electronics or clothing. Then consider how many of those stores there are in every town and city across the globe; Home Depot has 2200, Walmart has 11,650 as examples. And it’s not like eating things lets us completely off the hook since fast food comes with single use packaging; McDonalds has 35,000 restaurants, KFC has 18,875. All of that stuff is heading to a dump at some point in time. It may be that very day or it may be decades from now, but it all gets there eventually.
To see it up close, though, you can’t help but take a moment and just stand in disbelief at the incomprehensible amount of trash we accumulate and dispose of upon hundreds of acres of land. Every toothpaste tube is buried there with every smidge of unused toothpaste still stuck within. That pink and green, plaid couch that you thought was so contemporary in 1988, it’s there too. So are the acid wash jeans, the Ikea TV stand, the Tickle Me Elmo doll, and the eight man tent that fit three, was used once, and tore in the first stiff breeze. And to think there are people who still refuse to recycle, anything, and openly gripe about city council attempts to reduce garbage.
Commercial waste is even more fascinating. The last trip we made to the dump this past summer, after the ill-fated manikin episode, we were directed to dump our load of junk next to this pile of large spools. I have no idea what these are for, but I couldn’t stop wondering why they were dumped here at all, none completely used up and presumably recyclable in some fashion. It’s nylon twine and cardboard spools. Burying that on the prairies is the best idea we’ve got? Still?
Take a moment to scroll down through this article on trash accrual in the United States and watch the visual showing the proliferation of landfills since 1920 (click here). It is absolutely stunning. This is happening in Canada too. And Europe. And Asia. The whole planet is just being consumed and disposed of.
And most of us never see it or give it a second thought. Our bag or two of garbage goes out to the curb each week and magically disappears. No mess, no fuss, no conscience. That’s why we need mandatory field trips to the dump for everybody, young and old. Force us to see the legacy we are leaving on this planet, entombed in geometric embankments like perverse burial mounds. It’ll be fun. Really! We’ll get a day off work and get to ride a school bus. Who knows, one of us might even find a body.