Magazine April 16, 2012, Issue

Trash Talking

A bulldozer shifts garbage at the Monterey Regional Waste Management District landfill in California, April 22, 2008. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

Urban garbage goes down a chute, or is carried, to the basement of the apartment building, whence, by a process most of us do not understand, it ends up on Staten Island. (Garbage trucks, one would think from their name, play a role.) In the country we are more intimate with our own detritus.

My town has a transfer station — universally called the dump — and unless you pay for a service to pick up your waste, you must take it there yourself. Once upon a time the dump was a smoldering slope southeast of town where people simply pitched

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