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

Town in the Dumps

Air Date: Week of

Change comes slowly to a small town. But as Living On Earth commentator Linda Tatelbaum explains, losing the town dump can make things change a lot faster.


CURWOOD: Change can come slowly to the places where we live, and to small towns it often comes very slowly. But as commentator Linda Tatelbaum found out, losing the town dump can make change come a whole lot faster.

TATELBAUM: When a town loses its dump, it loses more than the communal gossip center. It loses more than the ability to bury what it doesn't want to deal with. A town without a dump loses its innocence. Now there are consequences to every action.

In the good old days we backed our loaded trucks to the edge of the abyss. We were too busy socializing as we jettisoned our junk to notice the pit growing shallower, the pile growing higher. When the state outlawed burning, we began to bury the stuff. Nothing could stop our communal ritual. But the pile grew higher, the abyss shallower, until finally you pitched your stuff up and watched it roll back down to land at your feet. All that junk mail finally did us in. The state closed our dump.

Now, instead, we sip our solitary coffee and watch a truck haul away our household trash at a dollar a bag. The rising cost forced us to recycle. It's easy for newcomers, who came here intending to live by old ways. But they can't convince the old-timers, who hoped to put hardship behind them forever after World War II. And now here we are again, crushing our cans and bundling our newspapers.

Dealing with what we don't want to deal with has an emotional cost as well. The dump used to be where we buried our differences. Now, some of us push for community composting and conscientious consumerism, while others resist. The only outlet for stress is the carefree tossing of junk from moving vehicles. For every plastic bag with an official "paid for" sticker sitting responsibly, even primly, by the roadside, there's a field dotted with forlorn junk in search of the lost landfills of yesteryear.

Oh, for the days when the dump satisfied our hunger to hang out together. All we have left now to heal our differences is Town Meeting in March, when cabin fever drives us to crave company. But starting this year, Town Meeting will be held in June, when we're all too busy for jawing. The fiscal year sets the schedule, now that we have to pay to get rid of our junk. You see, once a town loses its dump, before you know it, everything will change.

CURWOOD: Linda Tatelbaum lives in Appleton, Maine, and teaches English at Colby College. Her latest book is "Carrying Water as a Way of Life: A Homesteader's History."



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