Recently I chaperoned my son’s class field trip to our local solid waste processing facility. For a few weeks prior, all I heard was “Mom-I’m taking you to the dump!” Having grown up with the “dump and cover” type of waste management, we of course cracked jokes about the smell and how gross it would be. It was far from it!
This trip was the final portion of a lesson plan by my son’s teacher to educate the children about recycling and saving the environment. My son’s teacher is amazing because she not only handles all the little personalities in her room, but she is cognizant of making every moment a teachable moment. We were still on the bus with the children reading the sign of the waste management facility and she kept pointing out many of the key words they had been learning: waste, refuse, recycling. She asked questions about those key words to keep the kids focused and engaged in what they would soon learn.
The trip started with a brief video about the local waste management system as well as a question and answer period with the representative. The kids had some great questions that the representative skillfully answered.
When I was young, landfills literally were trash trucks dumping their loads directly on hills and eventually they would be razed over with dirt and the skies loaded with gulls and birds. Our current waste management system is much different! The children first learned that even though many people recycle, we still have far to go before we truly keep reusable materials out of our waste systems.
Trash is no longer just dumped on a heap and razed over. Trash that is collected curbside goes through an incineration process turning the waste into ash. The system is self-contained so any toxic fumes and materials are cleaned out of the air/steam that is generated in the process as well as the solid ash. The air/steam goes through a cleansing process, all the while creating enough energy to power 44,000 homes per day. The ash goes through a process that extracts any heavy metals prior to being loaded onto trucks and deposited on the waste hill.
The waste area is also self-contained. There is a barrier under and around the land so that should any toxins still be in the waste ash, it will not contaminate the local ecosystem or water supply. The ash is dumped and fills in space in the landfill, which after this process is so much smaller than the older landfills.
Our local waste management facility also accepts materials that local residents bring in on their own vehicles. There is a special area where items can be left and sorted so that the materials that can be reused are able to go off to be recycled as well as items like appliances and “tech junk” can be separated to remove any chemicals that are used (such as Freon, lead, etc.) and the metals from appliances can then be safely recycled or incinerated. They also have a facility that accepts inoperable vehicles so that those cars can have usable parts removed to be reused, chemicals removed and the metal from the vehicles can also be recycled for future use.
I was very impressed with how we have gone from simply dumping our trash and having it be "out of sight, out of mind" to it being about reuse more effectively reducing the amount of refuse in land fills. We still have a long way to go to make sure everyone recycles and properly disposes of all types of waste.
It was a wonderful lesson for both my son and I because I am more aware of what goes into my trash bin each day and to separate the recyclables as does my son. He’s happily helping take recyclables to the bins, helping to clean up the yard and our home. I look forward to doing more to lessen my family’s carbon foot print and I applaud my son’s teacher for giving the class and I such an amazing learning experience!