By Jim Hagarty
Time was, the back yard was a fine place to get rid of garbage – at least in the country. It wouldn’t have occurred to us to load it all onto trucks, drive it a dozen or so miles from home, dump it in big piles along with everyone else’s “waste” and bulldoze it underground.
Our “landfill site” was an old gravel pit in the 20-acre field at the back of the farm. In there went all the things we couldn’t incinerate in the barrel behind the house or feed to the cats in the barnyard. Old beds, bottles, cans and barbed wire ended up in the bottom of the shallow pit and on one not-so-busy day during the dead heat of mid-summer – we doused it all with gasoline and burned it.
For day-to-day garbage, we kept big boxes in the back kitchen and in them went the stuff most suitable for burning. On a regular basis, Saturday mornings usually, all that paper and cardboard was carted out under the big maple tree by the fence behind the house, stuffed into a rusting, semi-burned-out barrel and set alight.
To a kid fascinated by the magical ability fire has to make things disappear, this exercise provided an hour or two of great entertainment. You could toss the most sturdy, indestructible objects at those flames and in minutes, they would be reduced to embers and ashes.
Meanwhile, into a pail under the kitchen sink, all our table scraps were scraped, eventually forming an unappetizing mixture appropriately named “swill.” The contents of the “swill pail”, while they were really rather revolting to any human with a reasonably active sense of smell, made up an apparently delicious supper for our many barn cats. They fished through this orangey-coloured soup in the same way children might wolf down chili without touching the kidney beans. It wasn’t the sort of meal Garfield might like, but it kept our kitties going.
On the farm, for everything there is a place. Each spring, or early summer, a small trailer hitched to a tractor was backed up under the upstairs’ window of the summer kitchen. That window was removed and out into the trailer, for the next few hours, flew things we couldn’t use any more and which weren’t worth giving away. Things like old winter coats, curtains, radios that didn’t work, lamps, school textbooks. When the trailer was filled, it would be drawn around to other buildings on the property that housed things we didn’t need and eventually the whole affair made its way back to the gravel pit.
Into the pit we threw everything from clothes to couches and from tree limbs to tractor tires. A gallon of gas and one match later, all that junk began to vanish.
In a year’s time, the average farm produces a lot of garbage. But you never saw much of it lying around our place. We got rid of it in the ways that seemed most sensible to us.
It was a simpler time. Environmentalists were as rare as Cadillacs on the road that ran by our farm and even if it had occurred to us that the belching black smoke from our little yearly fire might be doing some damage to a thing called the ozone layer which we hadn’t even heard of anyway, there was no one around very much concerned about it. We just wanted to clean up the place so the neighbours wouldn’t think we were deadbeats which are pretty terrible things to be mistaken for.
Today, waste disposal is an important issue. A real one. What kind of world do we want to leave for the generations to come? On that point, we’ve come a long way. Most of us think we’ve got to do a better job of getting rid of our garbage.
However, and it’s a big however, can people be blamed for not wanting a large landfill site in their backyard? In the past, to belittle the concerns of people who complain about the prospects of a huge dump in their neighbourhood and thereby undercut their arguments, planners have arrogantly dubbed the phenomenon of people opposing landfill sites (and other developments they don’t want) the NIMBY, or Not In My Back Yard, effect. These planners, who often live out of the area to begin with, only create deeper anger and suspicion when they treat affected citizens like a bunch of local yokels who have nothing better to do than bellyache about inevitable change.
Granted, no site will please everybody. But there must be one site, somewhere, in any rural area, that would adversely affect only a few people. That’s the place to build a new dump.
We used an old pit at the back of the farm for our dump, as far away from our house as it was possible to get on our property. No engineering studies told us that was the best spot for our garbage.
Common sense did.