A trip to the dump turns into a voyage of discovery


I DISCOVERED THE greatest place last week. Its proper name is Mlllersville Landfill and Resource Recycling Facility. But everyone I know calls it, affectionately, the dump.

In my family, trips to the dump have always been a job for the guys. My husband often took our sons. But it never occurred to me to go. That was a guy thing- or so I thought. Why would I want to go there? It was probably dirty, smelly and yucky. Boy, was I wrong!

Anyhow, last week, our microwave died. It was too big and too heavy to leave with the regular trash, and I didn't want to arrange a special pickup. So, with all three males in our house busy, I decided to go myself - albeit with great trepidation.

I put the microwave in the car, checked my map and headed out, from Route 32 following the landfill signs to Burns Crossing Road. I passed the administrative building, then the commercial entrance and finally arrived at the residential entrance -- the Convenience Center, where people deposit household trash for recycling or disposal into the landfill.

I took a deep breath for courage and turned into my destination. Awaiting me was the official, but very genial, guardian of the gate, John Russ, who approached the car and asked for my license -- proof of residence, because only Anne Arundel residents are allowed to use the Convenience Center.

Russ checks hundreds of cars every day. Frequent visitors are invited to put a green sticker on their windshield to show that they have been checked, thus speeding up the process their next time through the gate.

When I visited about 10:30 a.m. that day, I was car number 114. The center's daily hours are from 8 am. to 4p.m., so a little mathematical exercise determined that vehicles had been entering the facility at the rate of close to one a minute. And this was a relatively slow day.

The center helps an average of 620 customers a day, but a busy summer weekend day may bring in 1,500.

For me, though, this was visit No. 1. I had no idea what to do.

I told Russ that my husband usually handled such jobs but that I wanted to dispose of a broken microwave. He broke into a huge grin, putting me at ease, and pointed out the bins where household refuse was collected. He showed me the one for metal, assured me I'd be fine, and sent me on my way.

I passed the bin for paper, one for plastic, another for glass. When I got to the metal bin, two attendants waited, ready to answer questions or help. I put the microwave in the bin and thought: This was great! The center was clean, neat and user-friendly.

Why had the guys in my family kept this secret to themselves?

I circled around and returned to Russ. When he heard how much I liked the bins, he suggested I go around the next circle to the trailers that hold bigger loads. There I met Danny Switzer, who showed me how the center recycles many items that would ordinarily be buried in the landfill.

Each visitor entering Switzer's domain deposits refuse in the appropriate trailer. Items dumped into the cardboard trailer are packaged in the cardboard building and sold to a recycler, generating revenue for the county. Wood and brush, collected in the wood trailers, is mulched, for use on the landfill grounds and for free distribution to county residents.

Leaves go into another trailer. They are turned into compost, which is being tested on the landfill grounds, and may soon be available to residents.

Metal, collected in another trailer, is sold to recyclers. Old refrigerators and air conditioners sit along one slope, awaiting a visit from the freon recycler. After freon Is drained from the machines, they are sold to metal recyclers.

Even old tires are recycled.

Sometimes Seltzer sees people with a lot of unused -- but still useful -- paint or with perfectly good bicycles. He might suggest that they donate these items to the Salvation Army, so that good items don't go to waste.

Switzer suggested that I take a look at the landfill, too. So I checked at the administration building and asked if I could visit the main landfill area.

Once again, I was welcomed with open arms. Solid Waste Operations Manager Linda Currier took me on a great tour.

Currier has worked for the county for more than 20 years. With a master's degree in environmental policy, she loves her work at the landfill because it combines such technical demands as leachate management and erosion control with the human issues involved in customer relations and education.

During her eight years at Millersville, she has seen a variety of changes that have led to more effective landfill management.

Millersville is the only working municipal solid waste landfill in Anne Arundel County. Sitting on the site of the former Edgewood Farm Country Club, it covers 565 acres. The landfill has been in operation since 1975 and is projected to serve the county until 2060.

But land is precious and expensive, so Currier is eager to extend the life of the Millersville facility as far into the future as possible.

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