How I Learned to Stop Single Streaming and Love The Dump

When we first moved to Vermont I was a little dismayed when folks said: “Oh! You live on the road to The Dump!”

The Dump. It just sounded… well, scatological for one thing. For another, there’s something kind of sad and forlorn about it. This is where we dump stuff.

Back then, we didn’t even use garbage cans- we just put full bags at the end of the driveway and the “garbage service” was two guys in a pick-up truck. Recycling was NOT included and therefore involved an elaborate and grimy system of different bins in our garage for a million different categories: aluminum cans, tin cans, paper, paperboard, corrugated cardboard, certain plastics, green glass, brown glass, clear glass. Whenever our bins got to overflowing we’d load up the car till nothing else would fit and dutifully cart it all over to the dump.

My New Favorite Place. Seriously.

Because I’d always lived in cities with garbage trucks that magically whisked everything away, I’d never before encountered an actual transfer station before. (This is the real name for the dump, which no one uses.) I was a little shocked: residents drive right alongside a series of enormous concrete bays into which we pour our different sorted categories of recycling. If you peer over the edge you can see the cascading piles of stuff on the lower level, a cavernous open space where the trucks of contractors drive in and out, dropping off construction debris. On most days the place is filled with the sounds of crashing metal and breaking glass.

But my trips to the dump were numbered: our two guys and a truck were bought out by bigger company, and then they too were bought out, and so on, until eventually it seemed like We Had Arrived. Now we had an actual mechanized garbage truck and two shiny plastic bins: one for trash and one for a magical new service called single stream recycling.

At last! It felt like finally, modern life has got this recycling thing figured out. All reusable materials go in one bin! How civilized.

In fact, the convenience and ease of “single stream “seemed to make so much sense that, over the years, I ignored all the big, unanswerable questions that kept cropping up, like:

  • If recycling works so well, why is there something called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
  • If China isn’t taking our recycling anymore, where is it all going?
  • How is it that my service accepts plastic numbers one through seven, when seven is “other”? How do you recycle “other”?

It would take an amazing amount of time for me to discover that much of single stream system is based on a lie, but that was because I SO didn’t want to hear it. I was addicted to a mirage.

Recently, in search of answers that are real, I’ve been back to the dump. Not much has changed there, except it is now privately owned. They still recycle, and still only accept that for which there is an actual market. No more mirage. No more dumping our problems on other, disadvantaged countries. This is real.

So here’s my Crazy New Plan: to stop my garbage service. As of right now we have only been using it for recycling anyway, and at my New Favorite Place recycling is free. I will save $57 per month, which comes to $684 per year.

I can then devote that money to recycling the remaining items my transfer station won’t take— in particular plastics #3-7— through Terracycle. So far this year I’m on my second “Plastic Packaging” box; at $134 per box that comes to $268 for ten months worth of recycling. Sure, I’ll be putting more things in them than before, but even if I’m using Terracycle twice as much, I’d still come out ahead by about $150.

There will be some kinks to work out— what about cartons? what about convincing my husband?— but you know, I’m excited. It’s one small step for me, one giant leap closer to Zero Waste. Sure, it’s one that comes with inconvenience, smelliness, and loud noises, but I’ve decided that’s part of the charm. It’s part of understanding that things that are worthwhile are worth being inconvenienced for.

At some point we are all going to have to choose: do we want a mirage, a delusion? Or are we willing to get our hands a little dirty at The Dump?

4 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Single Streaming and Love The Dump

  1. Huh. I never thought about opting out of the town recycling. I wonder if we can do that. When I was a kid we didn’t have it (I was in the country) and once a month we hauled everything to the dump.

    1. Well at least for us in Vermont, we have to pay for a service to haul our trash away- nothing is provided free by the town. It used to be that going to the dump was the default, but fewer and fewer people seem to use it, since the single stream “recycling” became an included part of the paid garbage service. Meanwhile the town sold the dump to a private company who charges by the trash bag but still takes recycling for free, but as I mention in the article- there’s no pretend recycling here: they take only stuff that actually is worth money/ will truly get recycled.

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