After fueling the landfill for 50 years, it’s time to starve it | News, Sports, Jobs
50th birthdays are often a reason to celebrate. Usually there is punch and coffee with cookies, maybe cupcakes.
I’m not sure that will happen in this case: Brown County Sanitary Landfill opened for “Company” the summer of 1972. Happy birthday to the landfill!
In the history page 50 years ago of the (new Ulm) Journal there was a report on a county council meeting. It was noted that while many counties planned to fight a new state requirement to have a landfill, “Brown County plans to open a sanitary landfill operated by Leavenworth businessman Richard Mathiowetz on July 1.” Maybe someone brought cookies to work there on this anniversary, but I didn’t see any plans for an open house.
I took a few trips there this summer as my wife and I are cleaning stuff. Pam went last time; she had never been there.
I told someone it was our idea of a date now.
In the past, I took a child or two, and it was a great adventure. I’m sure we weren’t supposed to do this, but if there weren’t other trucks unloading, we’d be looking at the stack.
Once we found a perfectly good toy horse in the rubble. He came home with us, forever to be named “Dump pony.”
The staff are always friendly and fun. A sense of humor can come from spending your working hours seeing the trash from every farm, business, and home in Brown County. It’s a bit like the sordid underside of a modern society. Or at least her junky underside.
For half a century, I’m sure the legislature had in mind some level of consistency in waste management across the state by requiring counties to have a landfill. Before that, I suspect things were thrown, buried, or piled up in all sorts of haphazard, haphazard settings.
I remember the Sleepy Eye municipal landfill was on the outskirts of town, towards our farm. I remember hearing my father talk about what the rats would do that summer. We were close enough to have visitors from this rodent community.
I remember hearing when I was a child that they sometimes migrated in large groups. Packets of rats. I had a few nightmares with this image in my head.
Nor can I say that our family’s waste management efforts were particularly enlightened. When I was young, we piled up garbage at the edge of the grove. From time to time, my father loaded it on the truck. They were dragging it somewhere south of here, where they were shoveling it down a ravine along the Cottonwood River. Looking over there, we weren’t the only ones using this method of elimination.
When I was older, we had a pit that also served as a mortuary for dead chickens and a dumping ground for our household waste. I guess that was an improvement. The good news is that it was glass and metal back then. The paper went into the burning barrel. Plastics weren’t as ubiquitous as they were to become.
Now, when I look down into the giant landfill pit, plastic – this and plastic – make up the majority of the stuff in there. As wonderful as plastic is for storing food, wrapping things to ship, and a million other uses, we know what an environmental nightmare it has become. Long after our species has gone extinct or moved to another solar system, the pop bottle I forgot to recycle will be buried there in Stark Township, leaching toxic sludge for millennia.
Speaking of space, the only thing to compare the dump to is a strange gaping moonscape. But it is not sterile and colorless. When you drive to where you dump you look at a big canyon with mountains of garbage. It’s a weird collage of our stuff with all sorts of colors, dull and bright.
It’s a different matter when you get close enough to discharge your own contribution to the stack. Up close, the collage becomes individual elements. A mattress, an empty toy box, a broken pipe, a cereal box. Everything has a story. Born in a factory, shipped to a store, bought and used by one of us, it is now here to be buried. No funeral or visitation planned.
For most of us, it’s buried and forgotten as we move on to filling our next dumpster. For Mathiowetz Construction Company and the county staff in charge there, they don’t have the luxury of “out of sight, out of mind.” It is extremely regulated and monitored with test pits around it.
I am happy. I know there is a popular attitude among some that opposes government regulation and oversight in general. I don’t want to live in their world, and I don’t really think they would either. I like the idea of someone caring about what might leak out of the landfill and into the water my grandson will drink.
I have to admit it can be depressing going there. This incredible giant heap is just that of 25,000 of us who live in Brown County.
What does the Chicago landfill look like?
There are environmental challenges everywhere we look. Getting rid of our bullshit isn’t even high on the list. Clean water and healthy soils are more immediate concerns, as we need them to live every day.
Global warming trumps all others as we look to the future. Climate change is the existential threat to the Earth and all species on it. We are fools to ignore this.
We must, each of us, do our bit. While we should keep an eye out for big issues, it’s worth trying to starve the dump. Reducing our contribution to this is part of walking light on this planet. After all, as we move towards nine billion of us sharing this place, that should be our goal. Do as little damage as possible and leave as little as possible.
Creation, after all, belongs to the Creator. We borrow it for a short time.
What if each of us used one less plastic bag per week?
Reuse a bag or group things together. Or take two car trips. Maybe you have a better idea to send less stuff to the Brown County landfill.
Let’s do it. Consider it a 50 year old birthday present for the old girl.
Randy Krzmarzick farms on the house west of Sleepy Eye where he lives with his wife, Pam.