Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Joys of rural living

We're heading down to Eagle River later today to visit the Older Daughter. We're going to do a little Christmas shopping, we're going to strategize about Christmas dinner, and I'm going to bring her an early gift: our trash.

One of the major headaches of living in a rural location is trash disposal. Back in the good ol' days, every little village and hamlet around here had its own dump, a totally unsanitary, unlined, and unsupervised landfill (usually an old gravel pit) that the locals dumped everything and anything into, from dead appliances to household garbage. Those local dumps were fun for scavengers, but an environmental hazard in the long run. Sooner or later, chemicals leaking out of that trash would find its way into local aquifers. So states started regulating dumps -- the small local ones vanished first, then the larger ones, and we're now to the point where one landfill in Ontonagon County handles trash from a multi-county area. This presents some problems for those of us who live far, far away from the landfill and have no local trash pickup.

Our personal solution, such as it is, has been to compost anything compostable, flatten metal cans and toss them into a junker that's eventually going to a scrap metal yard, wash glass bottles and eventually bring them to a recycling center, and burn anything burnable. End result is that it's taken us over a year to fill one 30-gallon trash bag with trash that doesn't fit into any of the above categories, stuff like burnt out lightbulbs and a dead coffeemaker. So today we're taking that one 30-gallon bag down to Eagle River, and it'll end up on the curb there. Alternatively, we could drive into town here and put it on the Arvon Transit & Disposal truck, but  I can never remember which days and times the garbage truck is at its designated pickup points.

I have been thinking about trash a lot lately, especially after seeing an article in the L'Anse Sentinel about a Michigan law that recently went into effect: it is now illegal to incinerate any trash other than paper outdoors . Apparently outdoor burn barrels are a significant source of toxins and carcinogens in the air -- translation: burning plastic milk jugs and styrofoam meat trays is now illegal. It hit me while reading the article that if we were to strictly observe the law, our less than 1 trash bag per year going to a landfill would climb to multiple bags per month. It also hit me that those of us who live in remote locations are going to find a loophole pretty damn fast -- and of course there is one. It is now illegal to use something like this:
Something like this is, however, totally legal:
The loophole is that while it is illegal to burn trash in what is effectively an open fire, if the smoke goes up a chimney or stack, you're fine. I cheerfully predict two things will happen if/when people start being cited for illegal trash burning: sales of barrel stove conversion kits are going to climb, and variations on a simpler mod (slapping a length or two of stovepipe on a barrel lid) will pop up pretty fast.

It occurs to me, too, that, compared to Texas, rural Michigan is pretty darn civilized when it comes to burning trash. We at least put it in barrels instead of just raking it into the roadside ditches and burning it there. 


  1. Rural Louisiana, trash was easy -- the parish (county) had some dumpster sites for you to take your trash to, and they were occasionally cleaned out and taken to the dump. I suppose you can't do that in Michigan because of the snow.

    I love how things are made illegal without providing any alternatives. I suppose the ultimate goal is to make all of us criminals so that any political dissidents are automatically jailable. Hrmfph.

  2. It's not much different on this side of the lake. Burn barrels are illegal, but I smell burning trash from the neighbors occasionally. We don't compost as it attracts wildlife, but having chickens helps.

  3. Our garbage gets shipped off to Oregon, I have no idea why they want it.

    Helen and I share one sixty gallon trash can that get picked up once a month, it's mostly just paper shit and cat litter.

    I don't remember what else I was going to say and it doesn't fucking matter anyway.

  4. Mine goes in a dumpster - Mom's gets sorted and then what can be burned is tossed into a cast iron stove in the garage.
    If we had recycling here at the apartments - I would do it.


  5. The one rule we had about our burning barrel in when we lived in Howell, MI was no plastics of any kind. That was in 1972/73.

  6. Here in rural Maine we have the same problem. Where I live I am about ten miles from a dump that will take garbage bags for $2.00 each...We compost and recycle what we can and then about every two weeks drop off two bags at the landfill.

    When we lived in the woods we had burned our trash...and when we lived in Alaska in the Native villages each village had a government regulated (and paid for) land fill.
    the Ol'Buzzard

    the Ol'Buzzard

  7. Arvon Transit charges $3 per 30-gallon bag, which is certainly an incentive to keep volumes of trash low or invest in a trash compactor. I know we burn stuff we shouldn't and I also recognize it's a collective action problem, but that still doesn't stop me from tossing occasional items into the burnable trash that probably should go to a landfill instead. There are no decent recycling programs up here other than for metals -- the distances involved in hauling collected recyclables to any place that could process them made local efforts too costly to sustain.

  8. Here it's easy to recycle glass, newspapers, phone books, cardboard, metals and electronics. But not most plastics.

    Once a year we have a ten dollar landfill day around Earth Day, that's the only time I go to the landfill.

  9. We have one bag per week usually and our neighbour half a bag as they have chickens and pigs. If we could compost and not attract rats and could recycle bottles we'd have almost no trash. No paper other than from my office printer or the odd wrapping of something. And maybe five tin cans per month.
    Home burning of garbage, as you point out is a serious source of God-awful thing in the air if it has plastic stuff in it. I burnt two years of dog hair last month. You want to be down wind of that.


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