Most people never get to visit a landfill and my guess is that for the most part, they are quite all right with that arrangement. Landfills are not generally places that people want to hang out and the word conjures up images of oozing slime, festering water puddles and rats the size of small cows, so I can completely understand the hesitance. Having said that, I think that not only should everyone visit their local landfill, but that everyone should be required to visit their local landfill (or, if your trash is dealt with in other ways, to wherever it lands up).
The reasoning is simple. The good majority of us have very little idea of where our trash goes, and it is my belief that if we all better understood what we were a part, we’d start to change our ways. At least that’s what I found from visiting the Puente Hills Landfill.
I had never been to a landfill before and Puente Hills surprised me on a lot of levels. For starters, it’s huge, in fact at the time it was the largest in the country (I believe there is a new one in Colorado that is supposed to be bigger). At 13,000 tons of trash a day (that’s right, tons) I figured it would stink to high heaven, but in fact, standing in the middle of the fill itself, or more accurately, on top of the middle, it didn’t smell like much at all.
That’s because as they dump each layer of trash, huge machines like the one you see above, drive over everything and smash it down into the fill, compacting it as they go. Then a new layer of dirt is spread on top and the process starts over again, building layer upon layer. It’s really quite impressive and not just due to the sheer volume of everything.
It’s those smashers that made me realize why you shouldn’t be throwing batteries into the trash. I always knew this, assuming that there was some vague pollution problem associated with them and that of course, recycling them made more sense, but until I saw the smashers, I never truly understood why.
Think about it. You put a battery, or any kind of e-waste, into a bag or box and throw it out. It gets dumped on top of the fill, and then the smashers come and do their job. Within a few minutes, that battery and anything it was in has been splintered beyond recognition and is now split open with all it’s insides fully exposed. Add a little rain, some rust, and pretty soon you’ve got everything seeping down to the depths of the fill.
If it’s an old fill, than you’ve suddenly got problems because that water and everything it’s carrying is eventually going to hit dirt and seep down into the water table, contaminating your drinking supply. If it’s a newer fill like Puente Hills, the bottom has more than a few layers of rubber, tar and sand, and is designed to be impervious and trap everything inside. But like any good roofer can tell you, nothing is impervious forever, so why take the chance in the first place.
So next time you are heading to the trash with a battery or any kind of e-waste, think about those smashers and that glass of water you just drank and choose to recycle it instead. Earth 911 has a great list of resources for recyclers in most areas.