This Dumpster Fire’s Still Burning

Well, 2020 is coming to an end. Thankfully. 

Usually I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions or all the hype surrounding a new year and a new start on January 1st. To me, it just feels like another day/week/month. Personally, I find Spring and Fall to be more reflective and conducive to setting new goals and a new beginning.

However, right now, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one looking forward to a new calendar year. This year I can support the idea of starting anew on January 1st. To steal from a popular meme – it’s been a dumpster fire of a year.

That said, even though I love the image, I’m not sure a dumpster fire is an accurate analogy for the magnitude of issues every one of us has faced this year. A dumpster fire implies some sort of disaster containment, some sort of doable damage control. It implies an impressive and dangerous, yet limited in size, disaster.  It implies a small, localized, and likely controllable fire.

I think a better, more sizeable, analogy would be landfill fire – or the town of Centralia1. But, since not everyone knows about Centralia, and the town’s fate is bleak, if not already decided, I think a landfill fire is the better of the two options for our purposes.

A landfill is larger than a dumpster (obviously); it’s the co-mingling of hundreds, if not thousands of dumpsters. It’s a community, and often a regional service. It’s a place where all of one’s garbage gets mixed up with all of one’s neighbors’, coworkers’, and friends’ garbage. See where I’m going with this? A landfill, when used in an analogy like this, is more representative of a larger community. While a dumpster, by comparison, represents just a few people who likely live in close proximity to one another.

A landfill is just much, much, bigger than a dumpster, and therefore has the potential to burn out of control for years, be difficult to contain, and cause any number of environmental, ecological, and economic problems. And like the pandemic, and our current news cycle, the public could easily grow weary of it:

“The recent low pressure front has shifted the winds and hospitals as far as 200 miles south of the fire are reporting a spike in lung ailments and deaths related to toxic fume inhalation. It’s advised that everyone within the region wear masks when outdoors and limit your exercising to indoor activities, especially if you’re young, elderly, of reproductive age, have underlying health problems or aren’t feeling well.”

In related news, grocery stores and suppliers are running out of necessities as roads are blocked by the growing piles of garbage that can’t be properly removed. This is also hampering local evacuation efforts. In some areas snow plows and bulldozers have been put into service to clear roads of debris.”

“Government officials, along with local waste management companies, are in negotiations with other facilities in the hopes of rerouting some of the garbage. But many of the facilities are outdated or at capacity and are unable to handle any additional garbage. Authorities are investigating possible alternatives, like dumping at sea, burying it with nuclear waste, or even launching it into space. Ironically, one representative even suggested incineration. Back to you, Bob.

Wow! Thanks, for that Nancy. Funny to think that the view from Space Station Unity could soon include a local garbage scow.”

I realize a metaphorical landfill fire isn’t the best analogy for this year either. Even a landfill fire would eventually be contained, or burn out, and, like a dumpster fire, isn’t all encompassing. It’s still a somewhat localized event, while the coronavirus pandemic, and so many other recent happenings are more global is scope.

Maybe the dumpster fire analogy works for another reason; it’s something most of us can imagine, even if we’ve never seen one. A dumpster, as opposed to a landfill, contains the remnants and discarded bits of a few people’s lives – not an entire town, county, or region. That means, in theory, that every dumpster fire would burn a different color, temperature, and duration. While your dumpster fire would look different than my dumpster fire, they’d still have a few similarities and each would be recognized as a dumpster fire.

Regardless of the similarities, each of us handles our metaphorical dumpster fire differently. Some cry over lost stuff, some think “good riddance, I needed the change”. Some adapt quickly. Some like the drama of the fire and throw fuel at it. Some do their best to help put it out. Some put up wind breaks to slow it down, while others fan theirs. Some grab marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, and make s’mores. Some do their best to move upwind, away from the smoke. Some do all of the above. Some do none of the above, it just depends on how things are going that day.

I won’t deny it, it’s a relief to think of this dumpster fire of a year coming to an end. But the reality is, nothing is going to magically change at midnight on December 31st. We’ll still be in the midst of a pandemic. Some of us will still be struggling with social isolation. Those who work in education will still be doing their best to cope with the uncertain circumstances. Health care workers and staff will still be overworked. The hospitality industry will still be struggling. We’ll still be virtually visiting with loved ones and ordering take-out. We’ll still be accessorizing with masks.

Maybe the dumpster fire analogy works because most of us are hoping that 2020 just fades away, burns out, or runs out of fuel, like a dumpster fire should.

As 2021 approaches, I say we don our gas masks, hope there’s nothing plastic or caustic in our dumpster, grab some hot dogs or smores fixings and do our best to enjoy the new year. Because from where I sit, it doesn’t look like the this dumpster fire’s burning out anytime soon, it looks like it’s just being moved to the landfill.

  1. Centralia, now a ghost town, was a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. The mines ignited around 1962 and the town is still smoldering, almost 60 years later. Read more about it here.