Talking Trash

How would you like to be a worm for a day? Or have refuse dumped on your head? Such things happen when people visit garbage museums, interactive learning centers that teach kids why “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is an important philosophy for the 1990s.

On the east coast, the Mid-Connecticut Project Visitors’ Center in Hartford, Connecticut; the Children’s Garbage Museum in Stratford, Connecticut; and the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission Environment Center Trash Museum in Lyndhurst, New Jersey take garbage out of the trash can and bring it to educational life.

“We want the children to have an understanding of various environmental issues,” says Valerie Knight-Digangi, director of the Children’s Garbage Museum. “Garbage is something they can take personal responsibility for. We stress that there are no right and wrong answers, but do emphasize that the recycling choices they make will affect the future.”

The Stratford Museum opened in 1994 and houses a 30-foot-long “Trash-O-Saurus,” made entirely of recyclable materials and displaying what consumers actually throw away each year. Inside, visitors can crawl through a worm tunnel that displays how fruit, vegetables, worms and insects are disciples of composting. The “Trash Bash” trivia session pushes students to answer garbage trivia correctly—or be showered with (clean) refuse.

The waste management and recycling company Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) operates garbage museums in Milpitas, California and Minnesota’s Sprawling Mall of America—both opened in 1991. The California Recyclery site includes an education center, the Materials Recovery Facility—where visitors can observe recyclables being sorted, baled and prepared for shipping—and a 342-acre landfill.

Andrea Rubio, a BFI community relations intern, says the on-site landfill demonstrates how garbage impacts our lives. At the current rate, Rubio says the 24-year-old landfill will last another 30 years, or until people realize “that garbage just doesn’t disappear, and that’s why we need to recycle.”