The summer sun beat down on us as we rounded the side of yet another hill. The latest mound in a seemingly endless set connected by a winding dirt road; as bumpy as it was undefined. My partner and I were comfortable if a bit restless riding in the cab of our twenty-six foot, “super mover” U-Haul truck. Unbothered by the summer’s heat outside but eager to be away from our responsibilities. Something more than the impressive heat was weighing on me as we drove further into the dump that afternoon however. A silent dread that I couldn’t quite articulate at the time and therefore remained unspoken. I felt close to an issue that has always bothered me but that I’ve never felt I could adequately address. A particularly large bump shook my focus as we rounded yet another hill exposing a massive pile of garbage. Immense machines comparable to excavators or bulldozers but on a much larger scale than one is used to seeing rolled over and rearranged the grotesque mass. It was in that moment I recalled a memory from many years ago when I was still new to the state of California and I was transported back to the coast some twelve to fifteen years ago.
Walking across the sand with the summer sun beating down on me I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the sheer scale of the expanse of sand in front of me. What was more impressive is that the sand absolutely paled in comparison to the vast expanse of dancing shades of blue and white stretching out beyond its edge. So enthralled by the spectacle I spent hours trying to corral the waves with trenches and walls of sand, swimming in the water, enjoying all of this grand new place. At one point during my escapades I came across a strange wrapper with faint print and a design that seemed foreign to me. With some effort I recognized the graphic on the front to be, “Taz” the Looney Tunes character I had seen on Boomerang many times. Being that I was very young my discovery of such a strange item in a new and exciting place sent my sense of curiosity soaring. I set off down the shore to where my family had set up their things in hope that they could provide me with some answers.
We plugged onward past the overgrown machinery following signs to the correct place for us to unload are relatively small load of cargo. Besides the half dozen or so machine operators driving those monstrous versions of construction equipment we could find no intelligent life to aid us in finding our position around the pile. Eventually, after some time spent frustratedly wondering we reached a large plateau we were sure was the correct place to be. “Where does all this trash go?” I wondered aloud as we stood outside our U-Haul at the expanse of rolling hills before us. “This can’t be all of it” I muttered tentatively hoping I had over estimated the size of this particular landfill. Before I could reach a conclusion a man in a vest and large straw hat angrily waddled toward us to let us know that despite our best efforts we were not in the correct place. The man directed us back down the other side of the hill to our true destination and we were ready to be on our way. “What a shit-show” I uttered as the U-Haul doors slammed and we finally left with some certainty of our destination. “At least the smell isn’t so bad inside the truck” my partner replied. He was right, outside the truck there was a certain hot garbage smell that seemed to permeate not just through our nose and lungs but through the whole of our being. Perhaps that’s what had dulled my senses to the point that I was unable to answer my own question, “where does all the trash go?”
I ran for what seemed like an eternity, many miles, a truly epic trek. In truth, my family was never out of site but, as a child with such a limited perspective I felt as if I was coming back from a far off adventure with some strange treasure. My uncle was the first to see me and offer some jovial remark about my mad dash down the coast to our established site littered with towels and coolers. “What’s this?” I questioned urgently showing the wrapper immediately both out of breath and overridden with curiosity. “Wow!” My uncle exclaimed, “it’s been awhile since I’ve seen one of those laying around.” As it turned out, after a brief reference to Google, the bar had been discontinued in the U.S. since the 90’s. My initial reaction was that of grandeur. I had discovered some long lost treasure right there in the sand. But soon more questions began to sink into my ever curious adolescent mind. “Where does all the trash go?” the question seemed simple enough to me then but my family seemed uncomfortable. “Well it goes to the dump” replied my uncle after some thought, “but it doesn’t really go anywhere.” Seeing the look of confusion on my face he elaborated further, “whatever gets thrown in a trash can goes to a landfill to sit and decompose and everything else undergoes the same process wherever it may lie.”
It wasn’t until we made it to our designated unloading zone that my childhood question finally reached a resolution. There on the back side of the massive hill we had ascended it became clear that trash was being piled, compressed, covered in dirt and the cycle continued. I hadn’t seen the grotesque piles, the ostentatious monuments, the unholy piles of human waste my eyes searched for because they had been hidden in plain sight. My eyes finally caught on to what my nose had realized all along and I was overtaken by a chilling sense of realization. Before me sat the perfect metaphor for the human attitude to existence. Out of sight, out of mind. All this time I’d been preparing myself for what I knew to be true and still the reality of the situation caught me by surprise.
“Well what else can we do?” I asked urgently. “If everyone just throws everything away soon there’s not gonna space for the beach and people to live.” My uncle smiled down at me and explained that there are in fact many other people to whom the concern is just as palpable. He explained to me that by being conscious of the products I use and the way I dispose of them I could make an impact on the world around me. Soon the wonders of recycling aluminum and plastic, which would go on to be my first entrepreneurial experience, were revealed to me. My neighbors expected to see me at their door once a month in search of recyclable goods. Before long my neighborhood as a whole became more conscious of their waste and footprint on this Earth. Despite the small size of the impact I was able to make at that time it would go on to influence many decisions in my future. Those decisions were unconsciously biased by the experience I had as a child and reinforced by my experience as an adult at the dump. Finally, I was able to see first hand what I had failed to grasp so long ago. Everyone is responsible for the space they inhabit and the things they use. While individual efforts are the backbone of any movement seeing the scale of the problem I had combated for so long made me realize this is a human problem requiring a coordinated solution.