Molly Burns stood smiling in the early morning air and surveyed her domain. Domain? Did that make her a queen? To many it would seem like Queen of the Dump was a dubious title at best. But as she turned to listen to a raven call from a tall Sitka Spruce at the edge, she knew it was an honor well earned. Not that she did any of it alone. There was a cadre of folks – paid and unpaid – making it all happen lo these ten plus years and she thought gratefully of every hand, heart and brain all dancing now in her mind’s eye. Such an amazing cohort keeping the place blooming, despite the challenging times. With the Mountain as backdrop, how could it not?
Rearing up on the other side of the town from her with its feet in the ocean, the 1600 foot Mountain was capped this morning in cloud while down here the air was clear and amazingly dry. She probably wouldn’t need her raingear like she did on days when the Mountain was fully cloaked. It was chilly though, and she’d left her beret in the car. She thrust her hands into the pockets of the red down vest she wore over deeply stained and streaked Carhartt overalls, her left fingers curling around an invigorating piece of carnelian she’d grabbed this morning. Her other hand fiddled with the tools of her trade – a black Sharpie, a battered mini-notebook, the key to the gate she’d just opened, and a zero waste button she’d picked up from the ground yesterday. She pinned the button on her vest and then saluted both the Mountain and the raven thanking them for their help in making ReBound a booming hub of Mahonia’s sustainability efforts. By the end of that thought she turned back towards the work of the day feeling her brain shift into higher gear.
To her left were neatly sorted bins of different kinds of metal. Oops. Almost tidy. Yesterday’s last load still needed to be broken down. She would get Gabe and the crew on that first thing. The two high school kids doing court mandated community service for some misdeed could take apart the rest of the aluminum lawn chairs that had piled up over the recent weeks. She wished for the umpteenth time there was something creative to be done with the damn plastic ones with a leg broken off or even a way to melt them down to make…. sand toys? This is a beach community after all.
The busyness of summer over, she and her staff were digging out from the overload that always crescendoed on Labor Day. Yet the rows of recycling bins behind her were still brimming as locals got caught up. It looked like the plastics tote was almost full. If only there wasn’t so much packaging in the world.
She sighed thinking of the large load of resale goods to be sorted inside the building. The church rummage sale had good leftovers but there had also been the cleanout of the Brady’s move back to the city that arrived at the same time. The intake area was pretty overwhelmed. She knew those wool rugs would go fast though they had to find someplace to display them. And so would the kitchen appliances. The Bradys must be getting all new stuff. “Silly people,” she scoffed disapprovingly. “‘Use it up, wear it out or do without,’ as the Shakers used to say.”
She glanced over at the lovely pennants the new painter in town had made that fluttered gaily from the peaks of the dumpster canopies and loaded racks nearby. The faded, tattered old ones had definitely needed replacing. They were good at wearing things out around here. “Thea, that was her name. Thea Culver.” Maybe Thea could calligraph that slogan for the wall over the recycling bins.
Ah, well. They would tackle yesterday’s incoming resale items with good cheer enjoying the treasure hunt aspect of it all, though undoubtedly other large loads would appear or at least the usual steady trickle. She was just glad they’d finally gotten good systems in place to deal with the inflow. It was lovely to think how far they’d come since those earliest days. They’d had no idea what they were unleashing. “We thought I could handle the resale from a window in the office while I did other stuff as well,” she chuckled. “That lasted about two days.” There was really no true catching up in this business. “Would I really want it any other way?” she lectured herself. “Just think how far we’ve come.”
She thought back on the nightmares she’d had in the very beginning as the metal piles grew taller and taller because they had yet to figure out a system for hauling the stuff away and didn’t know how it should be sorted. They’d finally gotten a reasonable contact in the city but some years it cost more than they took in to haul it there. At several low points she’d had to recruit volunteers with pickups. She was so grateful now that Johan had built a small foundry next door on the land they’d been able to purchase as part of the Big Grant and the Stimulus Funds. Now the bins of aluminum and ferrous got fork-lifted over there and he was turning out some wonderfully artful fences, gates, and hardware. He would probably need an apprentice soon…. In fact, she knew just the kid for it. She made a mental note to call the career counselor at the high school. Maybe she could get someone to help with small appliance repair as well. At least it would be a few months before she needed to think about setting up the kids’ trash art workshops or the adult ones for that matter.
What a joy that the old lawnmowers and bikes that used to pile up by the metal area were now neatly stacked next to their own sheds on the land next door. Alex Coulter had set up the lawnmower operation when he retired from his construction business. Now he repaired those that could be fixed using cannibalized parts from others truly at the end of their life. He did a steady business and was glad for the respite from the heavy work of building houses. He still had plenty of time for surfing too. Two young bicycle fanatics from the Growers Coop up river did the same thing with the bikes that landed there. They taught classes in bike repair too, the parts hanging enticingly on a wall for people to buy.
Of course, not every item had a happy ending. She figured she had about half a day before the trash dumpster was full and she would need to call the hauler. They were always whittling down the items destined for this last resort but there were some things that just couldn’t be salvaged. “We keep paring down the ‘irredeemables’ though. As the sign next to the dumpster says, ‘There is no such thing as ‘away.’”
At least the returnable bottles and cans didn’t need to be sorted so laboriously any more since they were all picked up by one distributor. She wished the state would take the next step and standardize the bottles so that they could get sanitized and reused without having to be crushed and remade. What a waste of energy that was. That thought triggered a possible local solution as she remembered hearing that young Jay Goodwin-Brown and Pia’s son Arlo Rosen were thinking of setting up a local brewery. “I’ll have to talk to them about using bottles that we could supply directly. I wonder what a sanitizing machine would look like? Surely they used to have such things and it wouldn’t take too much to adapt. What do they do in other less wasteful countries?” Now that could be added to the new grant she and Charley Goodwin-Brown were cooking up for the next steps towards their mission of inching towards zero waste. The brewery could be another pilot project – a first stage for the research and planning, a little travel money even, and then funds to buy or create the equipment….” She’d better call the budding brewers and get that ball rolling….
”Down, girl!” She fingered the goddess shaped piece of hematite hanging from her neck to ground herself. “After you’ve called for the dumpster pickup and talked to the folks about the upcoming beach cleanup. Oh, and checked in with Locus, the new local adjunct to the Portland State Sustainability Program, to see about the start date of their interns.”
Molly watched a battered blue pick-up pull into the staff parking lot. Her crew was arriving. She turned to wink at Raven who called encouragingly again, this time from the top of the cedar. She also took note of the spider webs draped between the arms and legs of the trash art figure in the garden. She missed Seth, her eccentric old pal and co-worker, who had made the sculpture from metal junk from the yard just like what was piled up today. “I can’t think about him right now,” she sighed as she turned to go inside to check her email.
What she didn’t see – and nobody else did either – was the shimmering, iridescent rainbow-hued Dragon who tossed her head and settled on top of the motor oil collection shed (another Seth invention) to watch the day unfold.