When I correct someone for calling the Moab Landfill a “dump,” some folks think it’s just another example of “political correctness.” Let me share the real reason with my readers today. A rose by any other name is still a rose, or so the saying goes.  But a dump is not a landfill and there is a difference between a dump and a landfill (besides the cost)!

There are several important differences.  First, dumps were usually open without anybody present to check on loads – people could bring whatever they wanted and leave it anywhere.  Second, dumps weren’t constructed to protect ground and surface water quality.  Dumps allowed open burning of trash, a significant cause of air pollution.  Dumps were often left open (that is, not covered) for extended periods of time, which meant problems with rats, mice, birds and similar pests, especially when there was food waste left unburied.   Dumps were usually put in the most convenient place to hide the materials, such as gullies, arroyos, canyons or similar areas.  When dumps were filled, nothing was done to prevent problems.  Was the trash still covered?  Was there chemical contamination?  Was there a fire danger?  Bottom line: several decades ago, Americans decided that dumps were no longer acceptable for disposing of our trash.  Dumps are the past.

Landfills are built and operated to provide a public health service; to handle the community’s trash while addressing environmental concerns.  To this end, a modern landfill has controlled access, inspections of incoming trash loads, constructed to limit water contamination, is operated to reduce air pollution from open burning, keep trash covered to limit animal and bird attractions, monitor for gas and water quality around the site, and is managed to ensure financial security to cover and then maintain a closed landfill for at least 30 years.  In addition, many landfills do more than just disposal, they offer types of recycling, composting, and a resource for talking trash or giving students a field trip experience to learn about ground water and air monitoring efforts.

Some folks may prefer the “good ol’ days” of the dump to expensive landfills today.  But were they really the “good ol’ days?”  Uncontrolled access gave everyone a chance to dump trash or whatever whenever they wanted, instead of being kept to limited hours.  (For Moab Class IVb landfill, the operating hours are Monday-Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday from 9 am to 4:45 pm with the gate closing by 5 pm.  The landfill is closed Wednesdays, Sundays and most federal and state holidays.)  Uncontrolled access meant anyone wishing to cut corners could bring in and dump illegal chemicals and other hazardous wastes.  These people made that dumped waste everyone’s problem, not just their own: those items could contaminate the water, both on and off-site.  In the “good ol’ days,”  “somebody” (maybe the county or local town) would come in (once in awhile, when they got around to it) to push the trash into a heap or over an edge and set fire to it.  Sometimes, they would push dirt to bury it. Sometimes “somebody” might put a fence around it to keep livestock and children from getting in so easily.  But much of the time “somebody” was “nobody”; and the dump was not just an eye (and nose) sore, but a threat to the community and the environment.

The “good ol’ days,” fortunately, are gone.  We, the management and employees of the Solid Waste Special Service District, take our responsibility seriously to operate the landfills and recycling center using best management practices.  The modern landfill is our community’s investment for future generations, to preserve our environment and protect us from our own wastes.  It is a far cry from the old “dump” and shouldn’t be confused with it.  Ever.  Not just when I can hear!