We may have a long way to go, but baby, we’ve come a long way
The other day I found five on the front lawn — a new overnight record here in the great Waterford Valley. Three were TH10’s, two TH14’s and one TH20 — probably an accurate representation of the ratio of sales of each. The TH series, for those of you who don’t live downwind from a Tim Horton’s franchise, is a popular model of plastic coffee cup lid which has a lifespan much longer than the consumers who form long queues waiting for a chance to gulp down their daily double-doubles.
“By their garbage shall ye know them,” preaches Christie Logan, one of Margaret Laurence’s colourful characters from her epic 1974 novel of polio, poverty and prejudice, “The Diviners.” Crusty old Christie, garbage collector and sage, was able to divine what the residents of the fictional town of Manawaka were up to by “reading” their garbage. I bet Christie could tell things about us, too, depending on where and how we dispose of our refuse.
Growing up, my father never permitted us to leave anything behind on a trouting trip, but many others did, and collections of mini-sausage cans and other junk sprang up along the banks of some of our favourite ponds — a foreshadowing of the deluge of disposable diapers and pop cans yet to come.
Not so long ago, too, we were up to our necks in car wrecks, quietly rusting, undisturbed in their resting places after they were pushed over embankments or just parked and scrapped in clearings. Decaying chrome and rusty fenders even peeked out of Mundy Pond. Car wrecks are rare now, but while out walking early this spring I came upon a collection of rusting auto parts in the Blackmarsh Road area. I immediately thought of Here and Now broadcaster, Ken Meeker, who in the 70s, launched a “collect a wreck” crusade that eventually disposed of thousands of hulks from all over the province — and Ken still made time to nurse injured birds back to health.
A character called Marjorie appeared in Jim Henson’s 1980s live-action puppet television show, “Fraggle Rock.” Marjorie amused and fascinated my children at the time. She was an oracle, kind of like Christie, except Marjorie was a singing, talking trash heap. My youngsters had never seen a real trash heap, but in my childhood it was not unusual to come upon one at the edge of a wooded area, or at the rear of a property. These were trash heaps that didn’t sing, but the flies around them did, and there was a definite hum. And who of my age, (the time of “ash cans” and “ash men”) could forget the great mountains of trash at the corner of Empire and Freshwater, the type of collection area Christie referred to as “Nuisance Grounds.”
Out in Chamberlains, like most communities, we had our own Nuisance Grounds. Ours was in Fowlers Road, far from the populated areas at the time. But it grew and grew until someone decided it would be a good idea to concentrate and burn the stuff, ushering in the era of the teepee incinerators. These black smouldering cones, referred to as “garbage volcanoes” by my youngsters, puffed out their toxins at the edges of towns until fairly recently. But finally the green mantra of reduce, reuse, and recycle has gnawed its way through our stubborn husks and even St. John’s, the grubby old harbour town, is awash with blue bags destined for recycling at Robin Hood Bay Waste Management Facility (RHBWMF).
A few years ago, I worked with a fellow who, at the time, lived near Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He was disgusted to discover someone was regularly tossing bags of garbage into a corner of the graveyard near the Field of Honour. So compelled was Mr. D. to right this wrong, that he gloved his hands and sifted through the dumped garbage looking for clues that might identify its owner. He patiently stored the garbage on his own property and as each new bag appeared, he examined the contents.
In December of that year, Mr. D.’s tenacity was rewarded with documents revealing a name and an address, just around the corner, that identified the graveyard garbage dumper. Imagine that family’s surprise that year, for who should appear at their door at Christmas? Not a jolly old elf with a sack on his back, but a grumpy man bringing bulging bags of green and a stern lecture about garbage and graveyards. No more garbage appeared at Mount Pleasant.
From the opposite end of the garbage dumping continuum, here is another tale of trash from a “Land and Sea” program about the logging camps of 1920s Newfoundland. After a tour of the Provincial Loggers’ Museum in Grand Falls-Windsor, a tourist, unmoved by the hardship endured by Newfoundland loggers, seemed to be only concerned about the environmental impact of the logging camps.
“What did you do with your trash?” she asked her guide, pronouncing “trash” so that it sounded like “trosh”.
“Trosh? What’s trosh?” asked her guide, a former logger.
“You know,” whined the tourist, “your garbage,” again drawling out the word to something like, “goor-bage.”
“Garbage?” said the logger, shortening the “a” to a length more suitable for a word describing refuse. “There was no garbage. We eat it all!”
But the garbage situation is so much better these days, I’m not complaining. I don’t mind collecting a few lids, which are, unlike the coffee cups they cover, recyclable here in St. John’s. Every second Thursday, I marvel at the neat blue line of bags stuffed with recyclables stretched out along Topsail Road. The cardboard, the cans, the bottles, no longer designated for burial at the Robin Hood Bay sea gull playground but repurposed to fill our ever-growing consumer needs. A far cry from the St. John’s of my childhood, where one spring, I watched a mini-tornado carrying black dirt, gum and candy wrappers twist its way down the lower part of Carter’s Hill near where the City Hall concrete bunker now stands guard against such violent storms of trash.
Recently, with yard detritus to dispose of, I wound my way through the Euro-style roundabout and landscaped property of RHBWMF. Its ever-helpful staff and multiple refuse bins make the drive-through drop-off user friendly for the average sedan driving homeowner. I swear, even the gulls look cleaner and more robust. No more Nuisance Grounds.