Spring cleaning can resemble archaeology at times. Busted lamps, clothes too nasty for wearing even when changing the oil, half-rotted boards, and malfunctioning toys accumulate like detritus from past civilizations.

Sanitation crews will dispose of some of this stuff, but the quickest way to get it out of sight is to take it to the dump. In DeKalb County, this means going to the incinerator behind county police headquarters, near Memorial Drive and I-285. On a recent Saturday, my battered ’75 Dodge, its trunk jammed with broken concrete blocks, a rusted swing set sawed into pieces, and assorted treasures, joined a line of vehicles awaiting approval by a crack team of inspectors. One driver who’d passed got a resounding cheer from other dumpers as he floored his pickup to topple an old stove onto a glistening pile of scraps.

A glimpse into the trunk told the attendant that I had serious debris. He gave me a map directing me to the Seminole Road Landfill and said, “They take anything there.”

Row of Garbage Trucks at a Landfill
Photo by Maita Ru,

This landfill is south of Conley Creek, a tributary of the South River, not far from the Henry County line in southern DeKalb County. A few miles down I-285 to the Flat Shoals Road exit, and you’re almost there. I drove along Clevemont Road, wondering whether it bothered people to live near the county dump, and swerved to miss a dead rat the size of a Chihuahua.

The neighborhood is fairly pleasant (that was the only rat I saw), and it seems to be growing. On River Road, somebody was using DeKalb Federal’s money to build something, apparently condos. It’s a good bet the brochures for the place will not mention the local landfill.

Garbage is a political matter. The landfill is not in Dunwoody or Druid Hills or Chamblee, where its effect on property values would be intolerable. And hands-on waste disposal is always a job for black people.

Signs posted at the landfill entrance warn not only against dumping by non-residents, but against scavenging (there’s a state law against that). I rumbled down a winding dirt road, past a mountain of old tires into the dumping site, a vast plain of muddy red clay ringed by a sloping ridge.

Surprisingly, there was no stench. Several huge bulldozers roamed, burying junk as fast as people could dump it. There was a row of pickups where the road ended, with people standing in the beds tossing things into the mud.

Knowing my dragging tailpipe could make backing out tough, I stopped to tie it up. As I lay down in the mud, it occurred to me that somebody may have illegally dumped toxic waste there. I finished the job as quickly as possible.

Hearing a roar, I looked up to see a giant bulldozer tire about five feet away. The driver looked down from his second-story seat and shouted, “Better move your car! There’s a garbage truck coming!” Since my car looks as though it belongs in the landfill, it seemed best to comply before somebody decided to bury it.

I drove past the pickups, took my place at the end of the line, and began heaving my cargo. Next to me, two small children helped their parents dispose of old dinette chairs, a dead TV, and other flotsam, and wandered dangerously near the bulldozer already covering up their rubbish.

Farther down, I saw a man and woman throwing out a truckload of freshly raked leaves. Since I once had fetched leaves from a vacant lot to start a compost pile (my yard had had only pine needles), it struck me as funny that anyone would drive to a landfill to get rid of perfectly good leaves. At least the organic matter might help the landfill support life someday.

As I tossed my son’s rusted, crushed toy truck onto a pile, I remembered it as a new Christmas present a couple of years before. How long before next year’s gifts would be burned or buried? How many years before I—and the people I love—would take our places in the earth?

I drove out quickly, hardly noticing my surroundings. I sped home and took a shower as fast as I could.

Southline, May 27, 1987

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.