Getting rid of your trash in the city
is easy. Take it to the curb on pickup
day and the city does the rest. In rural
areas, many people don’t have garbage pickup.
So they burn their trash. And that causes
pollution. Todd Melby tells us about one
place that’s trying to change its burning
Getting rid of your trash in the city is easy. Take it to the curb on pickup day and the city does the rest. In rural areas, many people don’t have garbage pickup. So they burn their trash. And that causes pollution. Todd Melby tells us about one place that’s trying to change its burning habits:
Robert Olsen lives out in the country. He used to burn his garbage. But not any more.
(Pickup hatch opens)
On this windy morning, Olsen has driven his pickup into town to dump his trash.
“I think this is probably a week’s worth for us.”
He grabs the blue plastic bin from the back of his pickup and dumps it into a green Dumpster.
“Not too difficult.”
Olsen runs the environmental office here in Lincoln County, Minnesota. It was his idea to set-up nine Dumpsters throughout this sparsely populated county. He did it because he knows that burning garbage pollutes.
“The issue is that when you burn garbage at home, in the country, the first people or persons who are going to experience any harmful effects from that garbage are going to be you.”
That’s because a lot of trash — including even plain old paper — contains chlorine that produce dioxins when burned at home. Plastic is even worse.
Mark Rust is a solid waste expert with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
“If you’re using a burn barrel or fire pit or you’re burning garbage in any way on your own property, you’re creating a perfect factory for producing dioxins.”
Smoke from burn barrels and fire pits are now the leading source of dioxins in air pollution. Some studies have connected dioxins to cancer. Burning garbage is especially bad because there are no anti-pollution scrubbers on do-it-yourself burners.
“With a burn barrel, it’s all right there.”
Melby: “It all just goes right up into the air?”
“Into the air, into the soil. Ultimately, we’re going to be taking it in on the dinner table.”
Most states still allow people living in the country to burn their garbage. In Minnesota, only farmers and those without access to affordable garbage pickup can burn. A 2005 survey found that about half of the people living in rural Minnesota burn at least occasionally.
Which is why the state offered rural counties some start up money to get people to burn less.
Rural residents in Lincoln County, Minnesota have had access to drop-off sites for seven months now. When the program started, haulers took away about 8 tons of trash every month. Now it’s up to 15 tons.
Back at one of the county’s drop-off sites, Clarence Lietz is getting of his Buick and grabbing newspapers for the nearby recycling bin. What doesn’t get recycled, gets burned, he says.
“What garbage we have like small things for the yard we just burn right at home, you know. I’d say about a five-gallon pail full or something like that.”
Another elderly customer — she didn’t want her name used — says she burns junk mail and envelopes at home.
“Papers. That’s all you can burn. I don’t burn garbage.
Melby: “And why don’t ya?”
“It’s not right to burn garbage. It don’t burn any good anyway.”
Melby: “Why isn’t it right to burn it?”
“You know why, don’t cha?”
I do now.
For The Environment Report, I’m Todd Melby.