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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bumpers at the Dumpster

Air Date: Week of

Former logger and Living on Earth commentator Robert Leo Heilman reflects on the normalization of once-radical environmental concepts in his home State of Oregon.


HEILMAN: I was up at the dump a while back, the same place that I've been hauling our trash to for 21 years now. And I got to thinking about the changes our little southern Oregon timber town has gone through over the years.

CURWOOD: Commentator Robert Leo Heilman is a former logger who lives in Myrtle Creek, Oregon.

HEILMAN: There used to be a hole in the ground there, where we tossed everything we discarded. Tires, paint, used motor oil. Furniture, animal carcasses, garbage. Every once in a while someone would set it on fire and the heap would get smaller for a while. Maybe twice a year the county sent a man with a bulldozer down to compact the mess and spread some dirt around.

Nowadays we have what's called a transfer site, which sounds different but smells pretty much the same. We throw our stuff into a metal dumpster that gets picked up by a semi truck and hauled downriver to the county's sanitary landfill. There it gets dumped into a big hole in the ground and a man on a bulldozer works 5 days a week compacting the mess and spreading the dirt around. I guess that doesn't sound like much of an improvement.

But things have changed. We can sort our trash now, recycling paper, tin, glass, plastic, appliances, motor oil, leaves and grass clippings. This saves us room at the big dump and makes a little money for the local charity that sells what we sort out. While I was musing instead of tossing, one of my neighbors pulled in. He was a logger, a timber faller in fact, judging by the chainsaws, oil and gas jugs, axes and road warnings signs in the bed of his crew cab pickup. Our county calls itself the Timber Capitol of the Nation, which isn't too far from the truth. So loggers are a common sight in these parts. The bumper sticker on his truck read Help Ruin America: Join An Environmental Group. Which is a pretty common one now, like the ones that say Keep Oregon Green: Stop Clearcutting. Twenty years ago you never saw anything like that around here.

Well, the first thing he did is what just about everyone does nowadays. He pulled up by the recycling shed and dropped off his newspaper, glass, tin cans, and plastic milk jugs in their appointed bins. It was all so commonplace that if it hadn't been for that bumper sticker I never would have noticed. Like I said, things have changed. We've come up with good ways to cut down on what we haul to the dump. Now, if we could just figure out how to reduce the trash that environmentalists and timber people paste on their rigs.

CURWOOD: Robert Leo Heilman is a writer and former logger. His collection of essays, Over Story Zero: Real Life in Timber Country, is published by Sasquatch Books. He comes to us from KLCC in Eugene, Oregon.



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