Ok, so maybe this is not a place I would recommend visiting on a carefree Sunday afternoon with the family. However, it is a place local to home that I just visited for the first time and I must say that it was an educational experience to say the least.

I am almost ashamed to admit this but three days ago, at 34 years of age, I just visited a landfill for the first time. Needless to say, it left images in my head that have resurfaced almost every time I have put anything in the garbage since I visited.  I am not sure I will be able to look at my trash can the same way.

On Wednesday I helped my friend Jeff who owns Carolina Custom Kitchen & Bath tear out the old counter tops and cabinets in a kitchen he is remodeling. Try as we might to fit the old cabinets in the trash can or suck them up into the shop vac, we had no choice but to haul them off to the landfill. Since I live within city limits and all of my trash magically disappears from the end of the driveway once a week, this was a new experience for me. 

About 15 minutes outside of Anderson, SC lies the sprawling metropolis of Starr (Population=13, I believe). Previously I had believed that nothing was located in Starr except for a post office and a convenience store but apparently they are also home to the Anderson County Landfill… never underestimate the wonders of Small Town, USA, I suppose. 

The first thing I learned is that you are required to pay to dump your trash at the landfill so you get to drive over a giant scale-bridge when you enter and when you leave. This is always fun as giant-truck-size versions of small household appliances evoke a childish excitement for me.  After you have weighed in you follow the gravel road through a pine forest. The drive falls short of scenic but would pass for serene if it was not for the various dumping stations you pass along the way for specific items such as appliances.  Serenity ends when you reach the grand finale and drive up the huge Upstate-orange mound of Earth from which you will throw your garbage off of. 

I cannot lie, there is something liberating about throwing a half-ton of garbage off of a cliff. I admit that I imagined myself as Arlo Guthrie preparing for Thanksgiving Dinner at Alice’s Restaurant and this brought me a great sense of pleasure and amusement. However, I was also struck by the vastness of this operation and just how much junk was filling up this hole in the Earth.

My conscious was clean given the fact that A) all of our landfill contributions were biodegradable and B) I was getting paid to throw stuff off a cliff. The part that made me think twice was the plastic kids toys and metal bed frames and other items that will be under the ground in the same condition they are in right now long after I am gone. Last I checked many of these items could have also found homes at the Anderson County Recycling Center or a local salvage yard. In many cases some of these items may have even found homes at a garage sale or local charity, especially if you subscribe to the “one man’s trash…” theory of recycling. 

Let me be clear – I am not the most environmentally conscious person in the world. My wife and I have recycling bags for plastic, glass, and paper and once a week we take a trip to the recycling center. That said, I have thrown plenty of recyclable items in the trash out of laziness or convenience if those little recycling bags were full or, God forbid, in another room. This year I traded my gas guzzling Dodge truck that I owned for ten years for a four-cylinder Subaru station wagon but honestly no factor besides my own economics played into this decision.  I grew weary of getting 13 miles per gallon but was never convinced that my truck and Al Gore’s global warming were in any way related.  

My point is simply that the landfill made me think twice about what we can all do better to help out the environment, especially that which lies right here in our backyard.  I realize that landfills are a necessary part of our modern consumption but I wonder how much stuff we actually have to send their way.  I honestly do not even know what the environmental impact of a landfill is or if it really makes a flip in the grand scheme of things if yesterday’s junk mail ends up in the trash can or the yellow bag next to it labeled “paper”. What I do know is this:  when I saw what lay at the bottom of the landfill on Wednesday something did not seem quite right about it. On the other hand, when Ivan and I went to the recycling center on Friday something about our world felt a little cleaner.  

I just realized something as I wrote this… I drive a Subaru, am about two months overdue for a haircut and I just blogged about recycling.  I guess I am officially a hippie now.  In the interest of recycling, I will gladly accept your old tie-died shirts you no longer wear. I suppose I will need them to fully embrace my new culture. Thanks in advance.