What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

16 June 2017

Fill it In

A few Sundays ago, the minister made an offhand remark about the local landfill during the sermon. Note to everyone: offhand remarks in my presence tend to turn into blog posts. Ye be warned, if you weren't already.

So the local landfill is colloquially called "Mount Rumpke," because Cincinnatians are a delightful group of quirky weirdos. This was the first time I had heard the preferred nomenclature, though, and it came along with a comment about how the speaker doesn't really know how landfills work. Which, naturally, activated the "Oooh, oooh! This is a thing I know!" section of my brain (and let's be honest, that's like 90% of the brain cells that aren't dedicated to things like breathing and circulation).

"But how could you possibly know about landfills, Su? Your areas of expertise are bikes and books." 'Tis true, but I am descended from a man who loves nothing more than to talk for hours about the things he knows (shut up), and said man has worked for a landfill for over 40 years. (He'll tell you 50, if you ask. But he was not working there as a 10-year-old.) So here's what he's managed to teach me in that time--what I've managed to hang onto without firsthand knowledge of working in one, that is.

If you imagine a landfill to be a giant mound of trash, with carrion birds circling overhead and plague-bearing rats headed in and out, you're thinking of an old-style open dump, the sort of which have not existed in the U.S. (not legally, anyway) since the late 70s. A sanitary landfill is exactly as the name describes: earth is excavated from site so the rubbish can be packed in and the floor and walls are lined to keep the nasty stuff in. The area will be divided into cells, and as rubbish trucks arrive, they're directed to empty in/near the cell. Large and heavy equipment will pack rubbish into its cell as tightly as possible, and once that cell is full, it's covered back up with dirt and packed in some more. Then the next cell gets its turn, and so on, because Americans produce quite a lot of rubbish. Which is why, if I ever hear anyone complaining about a landfill, my first question is about what they're doing to cut back on the trash they produce. No one's hands are clean when it comes to waste.

It has to go somewhere after it goes on the truck.
Image source: Niklas Johnsson on freeimages.com.
Here's the thing about sanitary landfills, and my real reason for wanting to share this: things aren't supposed to break down. If you're putting something in your trash thinking it's biodegradable, and it won't be around for that long anyway, please take that thing right back out of the trash and stick it into your compost. Things that biodegrade = compost; things that recycle (glass, plastic, paper, cans) = recycling; things that do neither = trash can. PLEASE. Because you know what happens when stuff breaks down? It releases gas and liquid, both of which can be harmful when you consider the company your rubbish is keeping. Liquid seeps and can get into the groundwater; gas is smelly, potentially poisonous, and when trapped underground, can sometimes get a bit antsy and violently force its way out. Which is why sanitary landfills have regulations about what they have to do to protect the groundwater, and methane wells to keep the gas under control. Mount Rumpke converts the methane into natural gas, which powers some local stuff, but persistent problems with the methane wells are what keeps Mount Rumpke much smellier than it's supposed to be. (I grew up around a landfill. I know what it's supposed to smell like. That's not it.)

Of course, the planet has its own way of dealing with things, and just because rubbish isn't meant to break down or leak in a sanitary landfill, it still does, just very slowly. Rain finds its way in through the tiniest of cracks, earthworms say, "Hey, what's this?" and basically the planet acts a bit offended at having a bunch of useless crap shoved in it. Which is why, after a landfill is closed, it has to be monitored for at least 30 years before anything else can be done on top of it, in case something decides to shift.

And to answer the other question brought up in church that Sunday: Mount Rumpke is expected to be operational until at least 2022.

Tl;dr: Don't put anything in the trash that is biodegradable or recyclable. Better for the planet, better for your community, and if your local rubbish collection charges by the size of the container you use--better for your wallet.

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