Today I want to salute a venerable Maine tradition. It is a recreation area, a standard-bearer for environmentalism, a community center, and a boon to the pocketbooks of Mainers: the town dump.
I know. If you live in a big city or one of those smooth, planned-development suburbs, right now you’re shaking your head. You don’t have dumps. You have floating garbage barges and large trucks that whisk your trash off to God-knows-where (hopefully a garbage-to-power incinerator plant like we have here in southern Maine.) But if you live in a small town or in the country, you’re nodding in agreement with me. There’s not much more fun than a visit to the dump.
There are two kinds of town recycling centers here in Maine; the old-fashioned, piles of detritus dump, and the new, separate-your-glass-and-your-no.-two-plastics transfer station. The former has long been a source of car parts, swing tires, odd lots of lumber, and, for the more adventurous dump miners, the highly desirable “good stuff.” A box of mason jars complete with caps and rings, old books, a stuffed chair with just one stain on it – and hey, if you drape one of Grandma’s afghan’s over it, no one will see.
The old-fashioned dump was also a center of recreation. My husband has fond memories of shooting parties at the dump: just him and his buddies, their .22s and a bottle of cheap schnapps. If you were a young person looking for a place to have some private time with your sweetheart, most dumps had a couple of old sofas dragged off to the side. Not as scenic as the quarry, but the surface was a lot softer.
The modern transfer station is cleaned up, drive-through, and has all the “good stuff” already pulled out for your browsing pleasure. Most of them have some variation of what’s called the Swap Shop in my town: a place where you can drop off anything you no longer want to have in your home, so long as it’s (relatively) clean and (conceivable) usable. It’s like Goodwill, with less organization and no prices. (Although I have heard of one area transfer station that charges townspeople for taking away stuff. I deplore this un-Maine stance and encourage the voters of that misguided municipality to call their selectmen and protest.)
At the transfer station, you can find anything and everything, including major appliances, paint, kitchen ware, luggage, and those strange pictures made with nails and thread that your mother had on the den wall in 1970. And since the recession, the number of Mainers taking advantage of the dump’s low, low prices and unbeatable return policy has shot up. I knew the transfer station had arrived when the New York Times home section devoted a story and slideshow to a Maine couple decorating their house with dump finds.
Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. It’s an old New England rhyme that encapsulates our relationship to material goods. In the rest of the country, “Reduce, reuse, recycle” is a hot slogan. Here in Maine, it’s just another day at the dump.