We as a culture produce a lot of trash—and not just in the form of reality television shows, late night infomercials, and bad romance novels. We put the debris from our meals, our projects, our newly acquired goods and wares, and just about everything else down the chute, in the can, or out on the sidewalk, and then we forget about it. But where does it go from there? Put another way: how does South Florida take out its trash?
If you were marooned on an island, and you needed a system for throwing away whatever trash you accumulated, you would probably wind up finding a hole, throwing the refuse in, and, if necessary, burying it. This is what Florida—and every other state, for that matter—did for hundreds of years: they found big holes in the ground and tossed trash in them.
“A long, long time ago, counties and cities had landfills,” says John Schert, the director of the Hinkley Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management—a statewide research center, funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and hosted at the University of Florida—and the self-styled “chief garbologist” of the Sunshine State. As these smaller landfills approached maximum capacity, he explains, the process was consolidated. There are fewer—and larger—landfills than there once were.
The other issue is environmental. If your refuse is organic material like coffee grounds, banana peels and an old pair of ripped socks, you can fill up a hole in the ground with a free conscience. But when you start tossing in lead paint, crumbling asbestos tiles and toxic chemicals, you run into serious problems.
“There are environmental impacts for landfills if not properly operated, constructed, and maintained,” says Richard Tedder, of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s solid waste center.