Dump or Landfill? Is There A Difference?
Working in a spring garden.

When I was growing up, I remember hearing about the town dump in Greentown from my parents. I knew very little about it except that it has been closed a long time and it was a place people could go and dump their trash. It always seemed to me growing up as a mysterious place, hidden away. I imagined it was super stinky and super gross, full of rodents and all forms of creepy crawlies!  Fast forward to yesterday, when I went for my first official tour of a landfill. I will not lie, I did not have big expectations. Or maybe that’s not true. Maybe I had TONS of expectations, but I found all of them were wrong!

So what are the differences between modern landfills and town dumps of old?

One of the biggest differences is science! What, you say? You heard me: Science. In the old days, there was a hole in the ground that we threw our trash into. It was left open and was usually unattended. There was no fee. You just drove up and threw your trash in. And not all trash was created equal. Chemicals, oils, industrial wastes, food waste, furniture, electronics…if you didn’t want it, in the hole it went. Sometimes portions of the dump were burnt to make room for more trash. And when it was as full as it could get, we covered it up and forgot about it. Seemed much easier than jumping through some of the hoops we do today. So what changed?

Science! Or rather, it didn’t change, we just became aware. Aware of the poisons that were leaking into our water. Aware of the rodents the trash would attract and the diseases they carried. Aware of the money it cost in cleanup and health bills. Aware of the fire hazards and the air pollution it caused. Aware that maybe it was NOT an easy way to get rid of our trash after all.

There’s A Better Way!

Which brings me back to the landfill I toured yesterday, and science! I had no idea the amount of research and time that goes into a landfill today! From choosing a site, to checking the soil and geography, to understanding how water will drain away and where to, to protecting the area around the site. I was amazed! And the results were apparent. There was very little smell, very little visible trash, controlled access to the site, visible inspections of loads, leachate collection tanks, gas wells that lead to an energy plant, and the list goes on and on. It was NOTHING like I imagined! And regular testing is done to monitor water pollution and air pollution to ensure contamination is limited. In other words, they are safer for the wildlife and humans around them.

What about Cost?

This topic is touchy for me, because I have heard the argument ever since I came to the District about cost. There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t hear comments about paying for TVs or tires, or how expensive recycling is. The simple truth is this. Trash disposal has NEVER been free. Even when the dump was open and you just threw things in. We just paid for it later in health costs and clean-up costs. And it isn’t free now. Trash disposal is usually included in your utility bills or taxes. You may not SEE the bill, but it is there. And when you have to pay a fee for a TV that you bring in, it’s because we didn’t want to raise taxes again. You may think you are bringing other things here for free, but you are paying a small portion of your taxes for the service. It is why we don’t allow people outside of Howard County to use the services. They didn’t pay for them!

Modern landfills charge fees. Those fees are used to pay the permit fees, monitoring fees, disposal fees, specialty liners, and much more. When you DUMP your stuff because you are angry about fees, the city, county, or state has to pick up those fees, and they have to pass them along to you in the form of taxes. So you end up paying them anyways, and you force your neighbors to pay more too. It’s a vicious cycle. Illegal dumping can cost millions in cleanup, hauling, and disposal costs, and they eventually get passed on to you! And we aren’t even talking about the costs to the environment or why recycling can seem more expensive than simple trash disposal. That’s a topic for another blog.

What Makes A Landfill Bad?

So off my soap box and back to the landfill! I am grateful to Henry County and Waste Management for the opportunity to tour their landfill and learn about the advances in waste disposal over the years. But I would say that the biggest thing I learned was that landfills serve a necessary purpose and are not “evil”. The problem is what we are putting in them. Out of the 292.4 million tons of material generated in 2018, it is estimated that approximately 75 percent could have been recycled! Landfill diversion isn’t about landfills being evil, but about keeping things out of them that don’t belong. It’s about saving natural resources and keeping our environment healthy.

We have come a long way since the days of the town dump, but we still have more to learn. One way of doing that is attending local classes and workshops in your community. Don’t see a class to fit your needs? Give me a call at the Howard County Recycling District 765-456-2274 and we can set one up. Or call us with any questions you may have. If we don’t know the answer, we will find it for you.


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