Last week’s conclusion to “Journey to the Landfill”: “We crept along Airport Boulevard, back over Memorial Parkway; then finally, 20 minutes later, the house turned onto a different road. Then, to our great relief, we spotted the sign for Leeman Ferry Road.”
After driving a few minutes down Leeman Ferry Road, we pulled up to the attendant’s booth at the Huntsville Solid Waste Disposal Authority Landfill. Ellen paid the $7 landfill fee, and the attendant waved us on through the entrance. Right away we spotted the Handle With Care household hazardous waste worker who quickly loaded all our hazardous liquids and powders into the bed of his truck and drove away. Finally we were rid of that DDT.
We looked around for the dumpsters into which we would toss the rest of our junk. I thought our long frustrating journey was almost over, but we soon realized it had actually just begun.
I already had some experience with landfills because, in the past, I had taken a few loads out to my local North Wake Landfill in Raleigh (this landfill is now closed and Raleigh’s trash is taken to the South Wake Landfill). At the North Wake Landfill, residents would drive up to the large dumpsters, park their cars and toss their trash into the containers. An amateur waste dumper like myself was certainly not permitted beyond this safe drop-off area. Only the large garbage trucks would drive on top of the landfill itself to dump their loads. Well, things are different down in Huntsville, Ala.
Off to the right, Ellen and I saw a huge hill of dirt on top of which dinosaur-sized tractors were compacting the garbage on the working face of the landfill. At the base of this hill was a sign that said Construction and Demolition Waste.
Off to the left, we saw a dirt path winding up a hill and behind a patch of trees. This path had a sign that said Municipal Solid Waste. Not seeing any dumpsters like the ones at the North Wake Landfill, we turned the car around and drove back to the landfill attendant’s booth. The man looked down at us from his post and smiled as if he knew what we were going to ask. We told him we were from out-of-town and didn’t know where to dump our trash.
To better illustrate the concept of a working face, this photo shows a garbage truck dumping its load onto the working face of the South Wake Municipal Solid Waste Landfill. Every night, the trash is covered with dirt, and the next day more trash is dumped on top.
He laughed and said, “Turn back around and drive until you see the sign that says Municipal Solid Waste. Wind around and up that dirt path to the other side of that patch of trees.”
So, we did as he said. Just as I commented to Ellen that it was strange that the garbage dumpsters were located so far from the entrance, we crested the top of the dirt hill. Exasperated, Ellen yelled out, “Where are the dumpsters?” Then, I realized what was going on.
We were not going to find any dumpsters because we were on top of one of the sections of the active landfill. Apparently, trucks hauling construction and demolition waste drive up to the top of the first hill we saw, and regular folks like ourselves drive to the top of this hill to dump their trash.
About 100 yards in front of us, we saw more enormous dinosaur tractors driving over the garbage-covered working face. On the 100 yards of ground between us and the tractors, was flattened, dirt-covered trash. A lone attendant waved to us, indicating that we needed to drive our car right up next to the tractors, get out and throw our trash onto the working face pile.
This photo shows a tractor working to flatten out a massive pile of garbage. The enormous size of the tractor is hidden by the garbage and birds.
Stunned, Ellen drove forward slowly. “How can this be right?” I yelled. “We are driving on top of trash! Our tires could get punctured! The tractors could run us over!” Ellen drove as close to the tractors as her courage would allow, which put us about 50 yards away. With bewildered looks on our faces and flip flops on our feet, we got out of the car and began pulling our junk out of the back of the Subaru.
With my father’s rusty baby walker in my arms and the smell of garbage in my nose, I ran as fast as I could to the pile. I was close enough to the tractors to see the whites of the drivers’ eyes. The tractors stopped just long enough for me to toss the walker on the pile. Right before my very eyes, the five-foot tall tractor tire crushed the walker. Only for a moment did I stand there with my mouth wide open and birds flying around my head, regretting that I had not saved this piece of nostalgia from such a horrifying death.
Back at the Subaru, two shirtless men with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths had begun helping my sister pull stuff out of the car. They clearly felt sorry for us. I looked around and realized just how out of place we were. The only people on top of that landfill besides us, the monster tractors and the landfill attendant were a dozen weathered men in large eight-cylinder, 400 horsepower Super Duty diesel trucks parked right next to the monster tractors. Apparently, regular Huntsville residents do not often journey out to the landfill.
Finally, the Subaru was emptied. Mortified, we jumped back into the car and laughing and waving to the attendant, we drove away as fast as we could. He shook his head and waved back. “Finally, those foolish out-of-towners are off my landfill,” I imagined he thought as we drove back down the hill.
Check back next week for the conclusion to My Alabama Waste Disposal Adventure.