WinterActive – Dumpster Diving, Ridgefield, Connecticut


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afternoon at the dump

A visit to the Ridgefield, Connecticut transfer station (aka the dump) is an eye-opening experience.

Even in the most ideal circumstances exploring the local dump might not seem like a way anyone would want to spend a leisurely afternoon. But why not? The dump presents untold opportunity for adventure and the potential for material wealth (if not necessarily monetary riches—though that’s a possibility as well). Aside from that, the dump tells us a lot about ourselves. What we choose to let go of reveals almost as much (and often times more) than what we cherish.

After visiting the Found installation—six exhibitions by six artists working with appropriated ideas and salvaged materials—at the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut I got it in my head that seeing that city’s waste firsthand might elicit some insight into why this show made so much sense in this precisely manicured, suburban town. And, I figured, if nothing else, this mid-winter adventure would get me out of the house and get my blood pumping. The requisite calls were made and it was surprisingly simple to arrange a time for a tour.

dump sort

Trash of all sizes meets its match.

So on a cold, blustery February afternoon a few friends and I headed to the dump. We were met by Ellen Rossini, the office manager for the town of Ridgefield. The first thing we learned about this particular dump is that one shouldn’t call it the dump—rather it is the transfer station, please. The dump in Southern Connecticut is in Stamford. In Ridgefield, waste is merely collected, sorted and shipped. Intriguing.

The second thing we learned is that everyone at the dump—I mean, the transfer station—is extremely nice and the space deftly organized. Not what I had expected. Not sure why (though I guess it’s understandable) but I had imagined an apocalyptic scene straight out of Mad Max, complete with hoards of gruff men, growling at me through gritted teeth as I passed by massive piles of rotting trash. Instead, we were greeted by smiling faces happy to tell me about what was going on.

Mad Max

You won't find anyone remotely resembling this guy at the Ridgefield Transfer Station.

We learned that Ridgefield has been an exemplar of recycling since the ’70s and that the town seems to have a strange affinity for its trash.

The Dump Ball

Ridgefieldians have been in love with their dump for a long time. Photo by Jen Turner.

Individuals can recycle their own goods free of charge or work with various companies to do the collection for them—single stream style. I was glad to see there were options and I was surprised to see that many people were exercising the former.

Recycling can be fun

In Ridgefield, a trip to the dump is a participatory activity. Photo by Jen Turner.

Searching for an inner truth about the town of Ridgefield amongst the twisted metal and shredded paper we found bicycles.

dumpy bicycles

Childrens bicycles: the inner truth about Ridgefield, Connecticut. Photo by Jen Turner.

When queried as to what recurring pieces of trash continually pop up, Chris, the attendant responsible for taking our tour through the less savory parts of the dump explained that indeed, children’s bicycles were brought in in large numbers on a weekly basis. Children’s bicycles and electronics. The bikes were for the taking while the electronics were not due to privacy issues.

The bike presence struck a chord with our group. Children’s bikes are a rarity in New York City—from whence our group haled. Biking is a dangerous activity in the city but in the suburbs it is a child’s God given right. Perhaps this is an obvious observance but that is precisely the type of thing a dump can tell you: Kids are here and those kids ride bikes. Those kids also grow up and grow out of their bikes. It also seems to say that there are not too many second-hand bike stores in the suburbs. It also suggests that if you need a bike for your child the Ridgefield Transfer Station might be the place to go!

As everyone in our group was childless, we left the bikes behind but grabbed a few discarded rims to take home and see what we might make of them.

Rim Job

Discarded bike rims present some tantalizing options. Photo by Jen Turner.

But we also left with a new take on what life might be like in Ridgefield. If you are looking for a new and educational experience, take a trip to the dump. You never know what you might find.

  • I think people just don’t know where or how to donate to services like that, which agreed, is sad. FYI, the Ridgefield Transfer Station does donate to charities which is likely where the bikes that are in good condition will end up. I do like your idea about the bike borrowing program. Very interesting!

  • That bike photo makes me sad! Why don’t people donate to local charities???? I’m sure a children’s shelter, or even just Goodwill and other charity thrift stores would be thrilled to take them. Someone should start a bicycle borrowing program in cities like NYC where street riding may be impossible, but children could borrow and return bikes like these for a little ride around the trails.