I went to the I-66 Transfer Station in Fairfax County today. It’s easier to call it the county dump, a huge expense where you can rid yourself of pretty much anything from old lawnowers to doors to hazardous materials. It’s not a dump, however; it’s more of a place where you can divest yourself of the perfectly functional, when you’ve decided to buy the perfectly new.
I was amazed, troubled, and, in the end, close to disgusted. I shouldn’t be the latter, since Fairfax County is spectacularly rich and residents are among the wealthiest in the nation, but still… The idea of throwing out working flat-screen televisions (they aren’t smart enough), computers, cables, screens, tools, refrigerators, ranges, microwave ovens, washing machines and water heaters, many in excellent operating order, well, it took me aback.
My friend Paul and his spouse Susan are moving to Wisconsin in a couple of weeks. They’ve been my friends for decades, and I know Paul has a suspicious fondness for ridding himself of stuff. So I took him up on his offer to get rid of some household items at the dump, slightly amazed that what he was divesting himself of looked and possibly operated better than a lot of similar stuff I have at home.
We drove to an immense flat area just miles from Washington, DC, and pulled up to a station where one could unload both operating and non-operating electronics. There was a large box full of working televisions—not the big 100-pound clunkers of generations past, but sleek, thin flat screens with multiple inputs, like the Panasonic I bought just two years ago… The one Paul was getting rid of was bigger than mine, so I was tempted to ask him to simply give it to me. I resisted the impulse. We struggled to unload the thing and slid it into a large box with others of its kind.
Then we drove a hundred yards to trash the chest of drawers. It was a nice, if not great, piece of furniture, the kind of blocky thing that, if I’d found it twenty years ago by the side of the road, I would have picked up and refinished. It was real wood stained a dark oak color, better than Ikea and Marlo, but perhaps not quite as good as top-level Haynes.
We took out a couple of the drawers and tossed them over a horizontal barrier and into a dumpster. Then we threw in the chest. I had a pang of guilt. I hoped it might shatter into pieces, thereby justifying getting rid of it, but it didn’t. It lay on its back, and if chests could speak, it would have asked, “Why?”
One the way out I commented that years ago I’d traveled to West Africa and seen entire villages built from flattened paint cans. Here we were in a place that defied my imagination. Perfectly good stuff being destroyed because it wasn’t pretty enough, modern enough, or worth taking to a second-hand store that might refuse it.
Not that long ago, dumps like the Fairfax Transfer Station were where one might go to pick up an odd chair or two for a temporary apartment. You’d find discarded exercise machines, bicycles without chains, cabinetry, bathroom and kitchen sinks, and light fictures. Today, such cherry-picking is illegal
Almost everything at the Fairfax dump will be recycled, I know. Televisions and computers and other electronics will be torn apart for micrograms of semi-precious metal. The dangerous stuff—oil, car batteries, leftover paints and other hazardous material will be disposed of safely, and this is good. The chest of drawers, though, it’s staying with me. I can almost hear it yell.