Little Details (3/18/10)

The stuff of life

March 18, 2010

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

I like the dump. My visits are generally a pleasurable experience. It’s an opportunity to be outside. The staff is friendly. If you have a kid in tow, there’s usually a lollipop in the deal.

I frequently run into acquaintances — folks from around town — as I tip 30-gallon barrels into gaping receptacles or cram recyclables into enormous bins with seemingly small points of entry. Folks chitchat while discarding the stuff of their lives.

The dump provides unique networking opportunities for job seekers. You can easily complement a LinkedIn profile by showing up at these Saturday morning “mixers.” Dress is casual. Fellow dumpers are down to earth — unpretentious in their jeans and mud boots. I’ve spied utility and banking executives giving their family’s trash the heave-ho at this community gathering place. I admire bigwigs unafraid to soil their hands.

Recycling makes me happy. There’s something freeing about exorcising my storage shed’s unnecessary clutter. Yellowed newspapers piled high, empty tins from stewed tomatoes and slender wine bottles from dinner parties past co-mingle, awaiting rebirth at the dump. Buying in bulk minimizes unnecessary packaging but my small family still manages to generate mountains of debris.

A recent Stamper Family cast-off qualified for specialized electronic waste services. Our older, 13-inch monitor — used for watching DVDs — died a slow death. (We ditched broadcast and cable television during the Clinton administration.) Images on screen slowly faded into darkness, “Dark Victory”-style. Any movie we watched appeared enveloped in night.

Online research and a reconnaissance trip to Best Buy yielded a sleek television with an expansive 23-inch screen and built-in DVD player. Brilliant daylight returned to our screenings. This was particularly helpful during a recent viewing of Jack Nicholson’s film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Capturing stark white interior walls and Big Nurse’s impossibly bright, starched uniform reinforced the dreaded monotony of the insane asylum.

Given the age, primitive technology and “dark side” of our 13-inch, it was destined for the electronic graveyard. I paid the $5 fee to recycle it in an environmentally responsible manner at the dump. Who wants lead, mercury or cadmium trickling into groundwater? Southern Vermont already may have a problem with tritium leeks — I mean, tritium leaks. I don’t want cadmium turning up in my locally grown leafy greens.

The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program gladly accepted our fully operational DVD player. Viewing television and movies can help new Americans with language acquisition.

Did I mention compost? That’s the most aromatic and rewarding part of going to the dump. I dislike stinky trash. Separating out food scraps and recyclables from bona fide trash keeps flies, maggots and four-legged critters away. Composting at the dump transforms fermenting food from my family’s table into fertilizer for somebody’s garden. It’s ecologically satisfying. Decomposing carrots, bread and peas reincarnate into a soil-stimulating elixir. The worms like it, too.

Visiting the dump reminds me that “throwing trash away” is a fallacy. There is no “away.” It’s buried, burned or otherwise aggregated somewhere in someone’s backyard. Minimizing personal trash generation, buying what we need versus what we’re socialized to want, and recycling make sense. When our family nest eventually empties, it’ll make moving to that condo in the city all the easier.


Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at or