You wouldn’t normally think that a trip to a landfill could make for an educational and fascinating experience, but last week it did. The Metropolitan Area Solid Waste organization held an open house, and I, as the environmental nerd that I am, attended.

I was attracted to the event because of their slogan: “When we throw things away, where is away?” Where is away, I wondered, but soon found out.

“Away” is an 800 acre park that has been collecting, compacting and burying trash since 1976. And while there is no recycling done on site, they also run a host of services to keep things out of the landfill. Bicycles are repaired and sent to a rescue mission. Lawn mowers and snow blowers are used by area schools in small engine classes. Yard waste and food scraps are composted and turned into storm management materials.

Even with these efforts, each day 370 tons of trash comes to the landfill from the two counties that it serves! The trash goes into a 300 acre pit, lined with 11 different layers to protect the surrounding groundwater and make the greatest use of the space. Even with this attention to the environment, the landfill produces methane gas and leachate water that must be treated and discharged, as the waste produces additional waste of its own.

The tour took us via trolley out to the landfill itself, and it was a great visual reminder of the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling products. When we throw things away, it gives us the false notion that they disappear, when in reality we need to store the trash for decades.

What can you do to keep even a few items out of the landfill: Buy fewer items. Take unwanted goods to a resale shop. Buy large sizes instead of many individual-serving sizes. Eat less fast food. Use a Nalgene bottle instead of buying bottled water. Repair appliances instead of replacing them. Invest in quality to extend the life of your goods. Use both sides of the paper before recycling it. The list of actions is as vast as the landfill is.

If everyone took action to keep one thing out of the landfill every day, think of the amazing difference it could make. Make today the day you start to do your part.

beth triplett


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