Do you know where your rubbish goes?

The Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia. Sierra Magazine Nov/Dec 2010
AP Photo/Kusumadireza


No, this isn’t a photo of a rocky desert, it’s actually a river, the Citarum River,  in West Java, Indonesia, which more than 500 factories and millions of people have used as a garbage dump.  There aren’t any fish left in the “river”, the people “paddle” through the stew of rubbish hoping to find something worth picking up for resale.

Have you ever visited your local garbage dump?

The average American produces about 4 pounds of trash each day, but besides cleaning our cans and buying plastic liners, we don’t give it another thought.

My friend Edith recently went on a tour of a landfill, “See that hill over there?”  said their guide, “That’s the dump.” It’s almost at capacity and when it’s closed in 2013, L.A.’s garbage will be trucked 200 miles to a site in the desert, and the dump will be converted to a park, or a golf course.

The Puente Hills, dump in Whittier (photo below) which takes in a third of L.A. County’s trash, is a huge facility which also recycles materials, and converts waste-water to recycled water.

Puente Hills

Do you know the difference between a garbage dump and a landfill?  According to Bob Trach, at the United States Department of Energy Ask a Scientist site:

A sanitary landfill in the United States is an engineered containment
system where the garbage or refuse is spread in thin layers, each of which
is compacted by a bulldozer before the next layer of garbage is
spread.  When about 10 ft. of refuse has been layed down, it is then
covered by a thin layer of clean earth, which is compacted.  

A garbage dump is basically a huge garbage heap with no human intervention except to
dump the garbage in a huge pile.  This is a very un-sanitary way of
handling household wastes.

Earlier this year I wrote about the Great Pacific Garbage patch, where so many of our discarded plastic bottles end up.


About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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6 Responses to Do you know where your rubbish goes?

  1. That Great Pacific Garbage Patch you wrote about still haunts me …
    now I have the Indonesian river to worry about. YIKES! TrashIsUs!

    • dearrosie says:

      Now that I’ve been made aware of the sad state of the Citarum River (thanks to the Sierra Club Magazine), I have a nagging feeling that this Indonesian river of garbage isn’t the only one in the world, I hope I’m proven wrong. I hope for the sake of our planet.

  2. E fullstop says:

    Visiting Puente Hills was an amazing experience. The whole operation is exponentially more engineered and sanitary than I imagined, except for the very low-tech and high-stink “MRF” or materials recovery facility, where operators stand in front of conveyor belts loaded with refuse and sift for recyclable materials. Because of the environmental containment, Puente Hills is in fact a landfill, not a dump.

    When trash breaks down anaerobically (which is the case in landfills), several gases are produced, including methane — a potent greenhouse gas. At Puente Hills the methane is harvested and used for energy generation. The energy is in turn used for wastewater treatment, which the agency handles for many LA County cities in addition to solid waste disposal. They produce so much energy doing this that the excess is sold to So Cal Edison.

    And as you mentioned, the permit for Puente Hills expires in 2013 and solid waste will then be transported by train to the Mojave desert. The trash from 78 out of 88 LA County cities goes to Puente Hills…and if any of your readers live in one of those 78 cities, they should prepare to pay triple or quadruple the solid waste hauling fees they do now. Now is a great time to rethink, reduce, reuse…and then recycle! A good way to start is to challenge yourself to cut your trash generation by half. Familiarize yourself with what can be recycled in your city (that info should be available on your city’s sanitation department website) and if don’t already compost, it’s easy to do — even if you live in an apartment. Kitchen composters are readily available, or you can get a worm bin and make the best soil amendment for free!

    • dearrosie says:

      Thanks so much for explaining all this to us. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had no idea that people are standing at stinking conveyor belts at the dump sifting for recyclable materials! Those people who don’t give a thought to garbage or recycling, will as you said, start thinking about it when their hauling fees go up so much in 3 years time.

  3. Diella says:

    I came across this site to find another shocking picture of Citarum river. I was wondering, when it was taken? was it from previous publications? The 2010 weather has been frequent raining and wet. Several times time I visited the place in Batujajar (where I suspect the picture was taken), the garbage was not there because it swept away by the rain and flooding. There is recovery effort for Citarum by government and donor agencies, and trying to involve other stakeholders, including community. It is still in preparation stage, but with more hands and concerned voice on the river recovery, I do hope that the recovery is possible and the river condition will be in much better shape

    • dearrosie says:

      Thanks for telling us about the river Diella. I feel so much better knowing that there is work being done to help clean it up.
      I don’t know when the photo was taken. I found it in the Nov/Dec 2010 Sierra Magazine which didn’t date it and which I credit under the photo.

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