1996-08-01 – The Tempest that is “Household Hazardous Waste Day”

By Larry Gindoff, Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, August 1996.
Art work by Jerry Garcia

Like a hurricane, the foundations of household hazardous waste days are rooted in seemingly peaceful beginnings. Eventually, all the planning, bidding and promoting materialize into a squall that crashes upon the shore with great vengeance. It is this type of storm, with all of its uncertainties, that I am referring to as household hazardous waste disposal day.

Early in the morning, these days have a real serene feel to them. Early birds wait patiently in cars reading the news of the day while workers eat breakfast and prepare the site. Breakfast is a time that you can sip a cup of coffee and reflect on the day ahead. It’s a peaceful time, the calm before the storm, a Maxwell House moment.

Then the clouds roll in. The thunder of the early birds’ engines fill the air as the doors of HHW day officially open. It then starts to pour, and I’m not talking cool, quenching rain here. I’m talking about a flood of paints, pesticides, oil, antifreeze, asbestos, and a myriad of other chemicals that would even overwhelm Madame Curie.

The hazardous waste workers seem to handle the deluge with great persistence. Like the old man of the sea, they have weathered this storm many times before.

In the same way that waves crash upon the beach during a storm, most cars come and go without incident. They deposit materials they have carried with them and head back out to sea, maybe to come back another day.

While working through this torrent can become routine at times, everyone realizes that lightning in a bottle may only be one car away. The next wave that hits may be the one that breaks the dikes.

Careful preparation and experience enable us to weather the storm, but it is not without a sacrifice. A great deal of effort goes into cleaning up the mess left by the storm.

Eventually, the sun peeks above the horizon as the doors to HHW day close. A wave or two may still roll in but everyone realizes that sunny skies are on the way.

The sun bursts through the clouds as manifests are signed and trucks high-tail it out of town. It is such a wonderful feeling that I often see rainbows caused by the sunlight reflecting off of my tears of joy. It isn’t a sense of accomplishment as much as a feeling of relief. It’s too bad that another tempest is brewing just over the horizon.

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