A few weeks ago I was out in Hertfordshire and went past a landfill site. You don’t see them very often, as they’re usually out of town and hidden behind large banks. I was reminded of my own brief experiences of a landfill site, and seeing as there’s quite a lot of interest in our previous postings on the subject, I thought I might share it.
Several years ago I did a stint of temping, one of those casual jobs where you show up each morning at six o’clock not knowing exactly what it is you’ll be doing, maybe manning an assembly line, moving boxes in a warehouse. One particular day I turned up with my steel-toed boots and found I was standing in for a driver’s mate who had called in sick – I was a bin-man for the day, manning a big blue Cleanaway truck (recently acquired by Veolia). It was summer and it was hot, and it was actually great to be outside, running alongside the truck, wheeling great big bins back and forth from behind businesses and caterers. I even got a £5 tip for removing someone’s cardboard boxes.
Hooking the bins on the back and pressing the button, everything went into the back of the lorry, and when it was getting full you crushed it. The pistons would come down and slide the whole thing forward, mangling and crushing everything to making more room. It was all quite impressive, in a boy kind of way.
You can get a lot of trash in the back of a bin truck. Ours was half full when started in the morning, and we filled up all day before we passed the dump around two in the afternoon. I have no idea what the actual capacity is, I wasn’t asking too many questions of my gruff, chain-smoking, driver companion.
The landfill was near Bishop’s Stortford, off the main road and down a dusty but unassuming tree-lined lane. Behind the tree-line was a row of trucks, a burger van, pre-fab offices with men in high visibility vests milling about, plastic bucket seats in the sun, and a weigh-in for the lorries so you could tell how much you were unloading.
We kept the windows up, headed on down a short dirt track and over the bank, and the ground went from brown to grey as we rolled slowly out onto the densely compacted rubbish. Trash stretched out a couple of hundred yards in all directions, and a heavy yellow tractor with spiked rollers passed back and forth across the freshest deliveries, crushing them flat. Most bizarre of all, there was a huge net canopy across the whole site, suspended on cables from large posts. This was to keep the birds off, and frustrated seagulls circled overhead. It was a highly surreal place.
Two minutes later the truck had tilted its load, and we pulled out to refill it. I’d love to visit one again, with a camera this time, but of course you’re not exactly welcome on the premises.
The photo above is the Bishop’s Stortford landfill site, and you can explore it from the air right here. Have a look around. It’s the worst possible way to deal with waste, to stick it in the ground and forget about it. Even incineration is better than landfill. But in the UK we sent 77% of our waste to places like this.