It wasn’t that many years ago that cities disposed of their garbage by dumping it on a piece of vacant land and setting fire to it.
“Fire” is perhaps an exaggeration, since the wet and rotting garbage was more prone to a permanent state of smoldering than to open flames.
The atmosphere often reeked with this precursor to smog.
Counties, with few exceptions, had no garbage collection service, and rural residents were left to their own devices, often creating smoldering mini-dumps of their own. Eventually these garbage dumps were replaced with “sanitary landfills,” perhaps the nation’s first five-star oxymoron. Garbage, instead of being set afire, was covered with dirt.
Skeptics said it was a way of filtering our future supply of drinking water through tons of rotting garbage. We find merit in that premise.
Disposal of garbage — it now goes by the less graphic and arguably more accurate name of solid waste — has become a considerably more high tech enterprise in recent years.
Landfills typically are lined with what is represented as a permanent plastic liner, preventing leachate from becoming a major component of our drinking water. They are sealed upon closure by a dirt-covered membrane.
In South Florida, some of the highest elevations are mountains of now-closed landfill cells.
Even as our society has insisted on more responsible ways of disposing of solid waste (to include more stringent standards for household garbage than for yard trash) we have embraced a new paradigm: recycling.
The focus was on this relatively new exercise in civic responsibility last week as the nation observed Earth Week.
There was the inevitable reporting of how many millions of dollars are spent burying New York City’s millions of tons of garbage, money that could be better spent on recycling.
The real sales pitch for recycling is taking place in school classrooms and in an increasing number of homes and businesses.
Recycling is being embraced as preferable to landfills because it is the right thing to do, not because it saves the taxpayers a few bucks. And that is the way it should be.
Bartow’s solid waste department makes it easy to recycle. Paper, aluminum, glass, steel, most plastics, and a host of other discarded materials are all put into a single cart.
Unlike many jurisdictions, Bartow residents do not have to sort their recyclables. And recycling is voluntary, not mandatory.
While we have made no effort to count households, we see an increasing number of homes at which only the recycling cart is rolled to the curb in some weeks, and relatively few homes which do not use their recycling carts on a regular basis.
It is remarkable that the city’s solid waste department, which collects both garbage and recyclables with one-man trucks, has reduced its manning from 40 workers in 1992 to 16 today.
Recycling is an investment in a healthier Earth, not only for ourselves, but for our grandchildren.
And it’s working, not because it’s required, but because it’s the right thing to do.