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.

The first way to do this is to increase recycling. Currier estimates that almost half our household waste could be recycled, which would almost double the life of the landfill.

Do I recycle? Well, my yellow bin is full each week with just newspapers. And Currier gave me a second yellow bin I can use for plastic, glass and cans. Residents can use two yellow bins, or can use boxes or bags or any kind of container to hold items for recycling. The county asks that the container be marked with a big X - in tape or crayon or magic marker - so collectors know that its contents are recyclable.

The other way landfill life is extended is through better management. Driving through the landfill area, we saw heavy equipment carefully compacting the trash in the active area. Layer by layer, a trash hill is being constructed that will eventually rise about 240 feet above sea level.

Lots of seagulls and turkey buzzards hover above the site. But, much to my surprise, it wasn't yucky at all - not even smelly. Currier admits that on hot days, the smell is more noticeable. But in general, it's pretty good.

From the active disposal site, we drove among small, pretty green hills. These are completed landfill areas, covered with waving grasses and a growing wildlife population that includes birds, squirrels, foxes and deer.

Following a dirt road, we climbed to the top of Site 567-242 feet above sea level, one of the highest points in the county. Standing there, on top of a hill of trash, the view was beautiful. We saw the Key Bridge clearly, even on a cloudy day.

Currier says that, on clear days, even the Baltimore skyline is visible. Closer in, we saw several other completed landfill hills. The only way you could really determine their identity was to notice the pipes that monitor gas emissions and check ground water to make sure the leachate management program is working properly.

What a peaceful, bucolic scene!

Currier said a projected use for the completed landfill is as a "green area," a site for walks and wildlife and a haven from the growing suburban bustle.

On Friday morning, I proudly put two recycling bins at my curb, one holding paper and the other with bottles and cans. And I find myself actually looking forward to something else breaking so that I have another excuse to visit the dump.

Prince of Peace worship

Crofton's Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church will resume regular worship hours after the summer break, beginning Sunday. Contemporary worship will be held at 9 am. and a traditional worship service at 11 a.m.

Sunday school meets at 10 a.m. Classes will be held for adults, and for middle school and high school students.

Children from 2 years old through fifth grade will be offered a workshop rotation including story-telling, puppetry, geography and food preparation. For children younger than 2, nursery care will be provided.

Information: 410-721-2313.

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