Posts Tagged ‘landfill

05
Oct
14

Official History

A few weeks ago, shortly after take-off from New York’s JKF,  I looked out of my airplane porthole and saw an unmistakable garbage dump, on a spit of land sticking out like a hitch hiker’s thumb into a wide river. I just managed to snap a picture before it was lost from view. The stylized shape and the unnatural parched grass cover are each a dead giveaway, as are the straight trails following the precise angles of this man-made hill.

croton point focus

Croton Point landfill. Click to see a larger image.

A little scouting on Google Maps and Google Earth showed this to be the centerpiece of Croton Point Park, in Westchester. It lies just north of Ossining, within view of the famed Sing Sing prison. A history of the park explains that the point has served its humble purpose for a long time: it was once a Native American oyster shell midden. Started as early as 7000 years ago, it is apparently the oldest shell mound found on the East Coast. The official history does not mention that the current park is laid out on top of a more modern garbage dump. That silence is also part of the perennial landfill pattern. Native American garbage, less noxious to start with, has been purified by time. Our own garbage is a different matter altogether and is still unmentionable.

I do wonder how it happens. Perhaps someone wrote a history that referred to the dump and was made to erase all reference to it by reviewers who were afraid to scare off the public? Or did the writer not even think to include it? Judging by my own experience of group encounters with the less ideal contours of reality, either of these possibilities is thoroughly plausible.

The New York Times manages this negotiation with the unpleasant just a little bit better in a 1990 article about an exhibition of local folk tales: “MONEY HILL is no longer shown on any Westchester map, and if it once was haunted the witches have fled the old knoll on Croton Point. The Indian trinkets and pirate gold reputed to be buried there – which gave the hill its name – will not be found now. The site is buried under the thousands of tons of waste that cover what is now a landfill.”

Just two years earlier, the news was even more explicit: “THE 600 acres of Croton Point once formed one of the largest tidal marshes on the Hudson River. After 50 years as the site of an active county dump, however, the area is judged by environmentalists to be a health hazard. A Federal judge last month called the landfill, which was closed in 1986, an environmental time bomb.” Again we are grateful to the New York Times in reporting on several lawsuits over toxic waste and possible groundwater pollution from the site. Imagine the poisoned plume that spreads from what must be an unlined dump, old as it is.

That’s why I love garbage, repulsive as it is. No matter how much it is hidden, erased, or denied, it sticks around, stubbornly bearing witness to what we most like to forget.

03
Nov
09

any donations to the landfill?

Flying home from Seattle to San Francisco on Sunday, I was asked by a jocular flight attendant if I would like to make a donation to the landfill. Yes, indeed. I did. I had an empty aluminum can I really didn’t mean to take off the plane with me, just so I could put it with the recyclables.

sfogoats

Cute woolly goats, stuck at SFO as a badge of green

It did make me ask what exactly happens to airline trash. As always, it’s thoroughly fascinating. To start with, SFO is proudly green. (To show us how intensely green, the airport keeps—or used to keep—a flock of goats on a strip of wetland at the very edge of the complex. Poor bastards.)  More seriously, the facilities are sustainable.  There are 50,000 square feet of solar panels on Terminal 3. And the airport diverted 55% of waste collected at the terminals from the landfill and 90% of construction debris in 2008. Everything is collected in a single stream and recyclables are pulled out off-site. A food waste composting program serves the various restaurants.

I suffered a momentary thrill thinking maybe my aluminum can was not destined for landfill after all. But it’s not that simple. The in-flight debris is none of the airport’s business. The airlines or the catering businesses that serve them are in charge of all waste coming off the planes.  And it’s the US Department of Agriculture which sets the rules for its handling.

whitherthougoest

Not quite as cute as the goats

Garbage from domestic flights may be landfilled and apparently also recycled. And, it turns out that United has a recycling program from aluminum cans and plastic cups arriving in Hawaii on domestic flights as of this writing and that it is looking into extending the program to San Francisco and LA. In other words, my hapless seltzer can came along just a little too early to be rescued for another go-round through the wringer of life.

Garbage from international flights meanwhile must be a) incinerated and reduced to .3-percent of the original volume, b) sterilized in an autoclave at 270 degrees F for 45 minutes, or c) shipped back to the country of origin. The idea is to “prevent the infiltration of foreign pests and disease.”

I wonder if anybody at the USDA worries about the pests and diseases we might be exporting to the developing world.

28
Sep
09

Garbage Hymns

Randy Ludacer, Singing about Packaging on Fresh Kills

Randy Ludacer, Singing about Packaging on Fresh Kills

Randy Ludacer is a package designer. He is responsible for the public face of such essential items as lemon-scented insoles, table cloths and pillow covers, furry rocker chairs and retro stools, composters, video game controllers, bath salts for jet lag relief, and Bling-it-on peel-and-stick crystals, best described as spangles for underage females. Also Randy is a singer-songwriter. Naturally, some of his songs are also about packaging, including “The Prettiest Package,” “Expiration Date,” “Pop Top Ring,” “Can Of Worms” and the immortal “This Landfill Is Your Landfill.”

Last Saturday, Randy performed his packaging songs to a select audience on top of the 150 million tons of trash contained in the Fresh Kills landfill, which is, naturally, the very best place to do so. Unfortunately, procedures kept the fans down to a modest number. The audience had to be bused in, in accordance with San protocol—after we signed release forms holding the Department of Sanitation harmless for whatever horrors might befall us during or in the wake of the concert. There were. like, 20 seats on the bus.

But there we were, in the great outdoors, with a view of the Arthur Kill and the ruins of New Jersey to the west, the Manhattan skyline to the north, and a wildlife refuge to the east. Randy sang and accompanied himself on his Tropicana box guitar, keeping an admirable balance on the garbage tightrope. It’s not easy being serious about garbage without getting heavy-handed.

Us, the Audience (and a Methane Well in the Background)

Us, the Audience (and a Methane Well in the Background)

The wind was brisk and rustled steadily in the late-season grass. The baby in the audience complained now and again. We clapped very nicely after every song, while the garbage kept very quiet underfoot.

Meanwhile, as Randy pointed out in one of his songs,  “Through the layers of the landfill, through/the garbage and the rubble, every tire slowly/rises to the surface like a bubble. This landfill/is our landfill. It was made for you and me.”

Just in case you want to know more about Fresh Kills? Try love letters and cabbage leaves About the old dump and the new park forming? More interested in the cheap thrills of Fresh Kills? Then you’ll want to take a look at landscape inspirations.

25
Jul
09

almost full

the hills are alive with the sound of compactors

the hills are alive with the sound of compactors

The Palo Alto landfill is almost full. The old dirt road leading to the active face is now being filled.There’s a new entrance and a new tollbooth, but it is manned by the same old walrus who checks your ID and takes your $10 for a trunkful or $20 for a truckload.

For a special burial, the sign at the entrance says, there is an additional fee. The gatekeeper explains that this is not a ceremony for your beloved pooch or your dearly departed hamster. It’s for such things as asbestos, which have to be double-wrapped.  Seems like a good plan.

In the 14 years that I’ve observed progress here, the mountains have grown faster than kudzu vine. In a year or so, they should finally be done. You can begin to see what the final shape of the hills is going to be—not exactly like Coyote Hills across the bay, but more similar than the breaching whale shapes that most landfills achieve.

14
May
09

Stinky Vinky

stinky's heap

stinky's heap

A little while ago I wrote about where the garbage I’m currently producing doesn’t go: the garbage dump near Barneveld, in the Netherlands. So I thought I’d go myself.

I can report it’s a beaut and large. And stinky. An oily substance seeps out of the frontal garbage declivity. Things peek up above the dirt which should be under it.

Other things lie about in the nonchalant abandon of retirement. What could they be doing, those giant rolls of something plastic. Still considering a second career? A short distance away lolls a stack of sewer pipe, also used, piled nearly up to the tops of the trees. If you can bring yourself to walk up close, you can look into the eyes of the curious horses in the meadow on the other side, like peering through a toilet roll at a primitive picture of rural delights.

astro turf? roofing material?

astro turf? roofing material?

The whole disreputable pile is exploited, as they say in the Netherlands, by a certain Vink, who’s just lost his permit for irregularities in disposal practices. Apparently I’m not the only one who took exception. But irregularities also occurred in the investigation, and Stinky may appeal the ruling. It doesn’t seem as if he’s in a hurry to clean up his act.

All of it lies alongside a picturesque country lane with old trees only a little the worse for wear that winds its way through fields just plowed and sowed. If you turn your gaze just so,  you can enjoy the view, the peaceful evening air, the birdsong, and the rustic chorus of crickets. Just bring some nose clips.

21
Apr
09

studying stink

I recently ran into some of the scientific literature about stink studies. These are conducted in the Netherlands near garbage dumps, incinerators, and other business enterprises likely to cause environmental nuisances, especially of the olfactory kind.

I don’t know if this is the case in the U.S., but stench is considered pollution in Europe. There’s a hedonic value scale that says that “very slightly unpleasant” (H=-1) is acceptable, but “slightly unpleasant” hedonic values (H=-2)  in residential areas amount to actionable environmental degradation. That is to say, if people live in a “slightly unpleasant” stink plume, something must be done to contain the nuisance.

Obviously, no enterprise is going to spend good money remediating its general stinkiness unless there are reliable, quantitative measurements that show incontrovertibly that H=-2 has been achieved. Measurements are made in stink units and in sniff units. If I understand the literature, the organization undertaking the stink study sends something much like a focus group into the field, at the same time that project leads analyze and measure ambient air and track activities at the (potentially) offending location. The members of the focus group, known as the sniff team, sniff the air. I’m not sure if they use expert sniffers or if they are recruited on Craigslist as representatives of the general population, as is standard operating procedure for focus groups these days.

Sniffing

Sniffing

Whatever their credentials, I can’t resist picturing them, standing in the weeds like partridge hounds, chin raised, nostrils flared, brow furrowed. They inhale slowly and deeply, experiencing the air, savoring its aroma as if it were wine being judged in a contest, and then spitting it out. Bluuch. Very slightly unpleasant, full-bodied and complex, methane-forward, with suggestions of trichloroethylene, halogenated hydrocarbons, considerable complexity in the biphenyls, and a sexy note of barnyard. Units are noted on the PDA.

I imagine the sniffers are posted all around the area, and they probably raise their olfactory equipment into the air at prescribed intervals for repeated readings. Their various savorings of the air are eventually compiled. Obscure calculations are performed to transmogrify qualitative experiences into quantitative results and to correlate awarded sniff and stink units with business activities and weather conditions. The idea is to produce not just readings of the moment, but to pinpoint the source of the bluuch and to extrapolate how often bluuch might obtain during the year.If the units exceed legal limits, remedial actions must be undertaken, and then the focus group/sniff team goes to work again, to make sure hedonic values are up into approved regions. It may also occur that plans to build new housing in the plume will be scotched based on findings.

Like many things in life, the law is a two-edged sword. I quickly ran into some studies commissioned by the stinkers to prove that they produced too much stink to allow housing to be built in their vicinity. Clearly, they didn’t feel like cleaning up.

A person who was at one time employed by the province of Zuid-Holland appears to have been in the course of compiling a stink atlas of the Netherlands, gathering together an array of stink findings for various locations and branches of industry. For the most part, incinerators are found to remain within permissible hedonic limits. Landfills are a different matter. The active face is, predictably, the source of most of the offending odors, but fugitive methane from older sections is also fingered as problematic. It doesn’t just cause global warming, then; it induces anhedonic states in the bystanders.

Now I don’t believe that the  Zuid-Holland stink expert was at all concerned with agricultural stink, which I can testify, as a focus group of one, is considerably more than slightly unpleasant in the general environs where I currently reside. (Agricultural stink might be too gargantuan a project to map, but I suspect that the real reason is that farmers are too well organized to permit any government to put stink limits on their activities.) A short bikeride from my cottage to the nearby village for groceries is an obstacle course through multiple chicken dung, sheep doo, and hog manure plumes. It smells rural, Dutch people say.

Local farmers are apparently resolarizing agriculture, refusing petroleum-derived fertilizers in favor of the traditional thing. Good for them, of course. But the hedonic values are way south of the worst landfill I’ve ever smelled.

09
Apr
09

Zwijndrecht

April 7, 2009, Lindtsedijk, Zwijndrecht, the Netherlands

Zwijndrecht's Garbage Plateau

Zwijndrecht's Garbage Plateau

In the background, just behind this peaceful meadow, lies a gigantic garbage plateau, containing my garbage from the years 1965 through 1967. My village got tired of managing its own garbage dump, so it paid the nearby community of Zwijndrecht to take care of it instead. Zwijndrecht was bigger, and it took a more professional approach to its leftovers. After a while, the town started a composting operation, so some portion of my trash ended up on the fields instead of under them.

When I looked at the map, I marveled how I could have grown up here and never noticed the dump. I used to come by here on Sunday bikerides, on the way to the pedestrian ferry across the Oude Maas to Puttershoek. The road down to the ferry landing runs right along the foot of the dump. You’d think it would be impossible to miss. But no, I never saw it. Nobody else in my family ever saw it either. It’s like it wasn’t there.

Zwijndrecht dump, along the Oude Maas

Zwijndrecht dump, along the Oude Maas

Now that I’ve walked around the entire thing as far as I could, it’s a little easier to understand how we managed to overlook it. On the side of the river, you walk right along the edge of the dump, which sticks up a few meters above the dike. It’s weedy and unkempt. A few pheasants scuttle about in the tall grass. A sign says that tresspassers endanger their lives in the quicksand. I’m not about to test that assertion, but I’m not entirely convinced. Quicksand? Sounds like the boogeyman to me.

Anyhow, as a feature in the landscape, it’s a complete bore—the kind of thing you just don’t look at. Which makes for a very clever disguise, like hiding something in plain sight.

How deep down the garbage goes, I have no idea. The horses are some 7 or 8 meters below the surface of the plateau, I would guess. Dumps were often started to fill up a hole, so the trash likely reaches below the level of their hooves. It’s a pretty impressive pile, and still it doesn’t look like anything.




June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930