Uniform, truck, facility: If it’s got your name on it, it matters. Some waste management axioms:
If you have a landfill, transfer station, compost site, or MRF, it stinks.
If your collection truck is dirty, it stinks.
If the collection crew’s outfits are dirty, your truck stinks.
If there’s litter near your facility, you caused it.
If there’s litter in the neighborhood on collection day, it’s your fault.
It matters not which way the wind is blowing, that a bunch of party people donated their leftovers to the countryside, or a local processing plant just experienced a methanogenic moment: Whichever of the public’s senses is offended, as well you know, odds are you’re going to hear about it…and not in friendly tones.
Over the years, MSW Management has devoted almost as much space to neighborly behavior as to the waste activities themselves. Why? Because, as we all recognize, the public isn’t much interested in waste management itself, but inordinately so in its mismanagement…be it real or imagined.
I’m not about to go into the intricacies of odor or litter management, leaving those subjects to professionals. Rather I’m in a learning mode today—hence the survey—and to sort of pay for your participation, offer a parable for your amusement.
The Ivy League Rhino
The story is set at one of those quaint Northeastern Ivy League schools tucked away in the Vermont woodlands—a classic Jeffersonian quadrangle perched at the apex of a shallow knoll fronting on a small lake that doubled as the community’s water supply and ice rink or swimming hole, depending on the season.
Here it was winter quarter, cold, sparse, and as you may at least guess, locked into the daily grind of such stirring mantras as Hic, Haec, Hoc…in short, Boar-Ring.
While it was way too early for the young men’s fancies to turn to springtime pursuits, it did at least engender thoughts of mischief, which a stalwart band of miscreants put into practice one evening by suspending the hoof of a rhinoceros (no, don’t ask where they might have come up with it) and by using ropes, made hoof prints through the fresh layer of snow down the gentle slope to the lake, in which they chopped a hole.
Day one got off to a good start when the zoology professor pronounced the tracks as those of a rhino. Things began to get interesting as the local water department halted services, summoning divers to find and extract the beast’s carcass. With classes dismissed and media representatives from Montpelier circulating through the area, bringing with them Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, a carnival atmosphere took hold of the proceedings.
Day two began with what might be described as a mild hangover from the night before, but by noon much of the joy had returned, bolstered by the comings and goings of gawkers from neighboring communities, eager to see themselves on the Six O’clock News. By evening, several potable water wagons had been stationed throughout the area but were largely ignored. The real action was handled by beer trucks, up from the city to perform their civic duty.
Day three began on a more somber note with the invasion of snow showers from the north halting the diving operations and chasing members of the peanut gallery indoors. Before long as you might suspect, the absence of free-flowing water began to insinuate itself into public notice through its communal nose. The dormitories, common spaces, and even classrooms were held in the grip of aromas not unlike those sensed by audiences of the movie, Das Boot. Classmates, even best friends, were having second thoughts about the people with whom they found themselves sequestered.
By late afternoon the storm abated enough for another frogman foray that ended once again in failure. As night fell, it was clear not only that the party was over, but time for the hucksters to fess up to the hoax.
Which they did, filled with what might not meet the standard criteria for contrition, but sufficient to the task of getting the waterworks back in action.
By day four, things were pretty much back to normal. The divers and equipment, water wagons, media folk, and beer pedlars had melted away as if into the mists that shrouded the lake in the early dawn. The soft sounds of showers added a note of expectancy before the flood of footsteps heading to the dining hall gave proof that the ivied walls had survived another crisis and Cicero’s Orations were back on the table again.
Based on reports from the divers, the lakebed was as free of contagion as promised in the Chamber of Commerce brochure, allowing the town council to relax in anticipation of the joys of soon-to-come springtime…except that some memories of the event lived on.
The coal-fired heaters at the college ran night and day for two months, as students, still conscious of the ripe atmosphere of the third day, left their windows open to clear the imagined vestiges of their showerless ordeal. Calls from concerned ratepayers over the taste of rhinoceros continued to plague the water department receptionist for nearly a year.
The point here is—all other explanation to the contrary, both reactions provide proof positive that our senses, once offended, can be fearful masters.
Now on to the SURVEY on odor control practices…please.