I spent my teenage summers living with my grandparents, in West Wareham, MA. They were both frugal New Englanders who lived within a mile of where they each grew up, and in fact the ancestors on both sides hadn’t moved around much from one generation to another since they arrived in the 1600’s.

It was the late 1960’s. Out in the back yard my grandfather had a “trash barrel,” into which anything flammable was put. Once a week or so he would go out and light it – mostly newspapers and cardboard.  At the kitchen sink there was a “swill” bucket.  Though my grandfather was an  avid gardener (flowers and vegetables),  composting hadn’t come into widespread fashion yet. Whenever he was going over to his cranberry bog, which was nestled into fifty acres of woods, he’d bring the swill bucket and dump it, much to the delight of local fauna.

I don’t have a specific memory of what became of other things, such as cans or glass (though glass soda bottles were returned for cash), but other experiences from that era involved dumps where the tender kept a perpetual fire going. Items that didn’t burn were eventually buried.

Here in Nelson there was a dump, within memory of some people still here, on the east side of the Harrisville Road just before the town line. We hope that some readers of this article will share their recollections. We can assume that it was, like most dumps of that era, an earth-repository for just about anything. When that shut down there was a gradual transition to Keene (or getting one’s trash collected), though people were so in the habit of going towards Harrisville that many opted for many years to use the Harrisville dump.

Recycling is now a major part of trash processing. There are different systems in different towns, and recently we’ve seen some bad press about recycling just ending up in landfills or incinerators. The situation is complex and occasionally confusing.

To be sure, many sources and solutions to the problem are national or even global: our grocery bags contain much more packaging material than they did in the “old days,” and disposables make up a larger share of stuff that we either need or want.  Shopping habits have changed significantly in the last couple of years, and supply chain issues continue to influence our options. What’s a Nelson person to do?

One thing is to realize that just as our trash generation and trash disposal systems have changed over the years, they continue to evolve. Things will continue to change, and we can be a part of that. Perhaps the most important thing is simply to think about what we do in very local terms. What is the impact of our lifestyles on our own little town, and might there be opportunities for new habits, and new technologies, that can enhance the quality and make us less reliant on the quantity of things that pass through our households?

If we look to the resourcefulness of Nelson’s Agricultural Commission and our enterprising young farmers, we get an idea of how hard work and creativity can move us in the right direction. This article doesn’t attempt to present solutions, but hopes to generate discussion and initiatives for the future. Might we discover some answers in our own back yard?

Edgar Poland (1909-1986), originally from Munsonville, was an itinerant “woodchopper” and “porcupine hunter.” In his later years, he lived in a small camp down the hill from the Gerbis house in Nelson village. For many years, Edgar, Nelson’s dump tender, travelled by bicycle to and from the dump, just off the road to Harrisville.

One year Edgar bought a puppy, Crackerjack, who became his best companion. Crackerjack proudly rode in Edgar’s bicycle basket. As Crackerjack grew, Edgar was no longer able to peddle his bicycle, so he simply pushed it to and from the dump, with Crackerjack riding in the basket. Neither of them ever missed a day of work. (from the Nelson History Calendar, 2016)

One person’s junk is another person’s stuff.

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