New Jersey Puts Trash on Display
Unconventional exhibit aims to educate visitors and enlist them in solving the garbage crisis. REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
NO art critic has ever been surrounded by such outright rubbish. But that's the point: Visitors enter New Jersey's Garbage Museum straight through a dump - a symbolic one, that is. The winding entrance is covered in trash - from old toys, telephones, and tires, to newspapers, plastic containers, glass bottles, and more.Skip to next paragraph
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The purpose of the museum here at the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission's Environment Center isn't to bombard people with some of the rubbish New Jersey produces - 26,000 tons a day, 10 million tons a year - but to educate them.
``We basically wanted to talk to the general public, find a way to intrigue them, and then also have a nice way to present them [with the garbage issue],'' says Anne Galli, director of environmental operations with Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (HMDC). ``We wanted to combine the traditional museum experience with a very untraditional topic.''
Where to put it all?
The colorful, hands-on exhibits, primarily designed for children, show how Americans' waste impacts on the environment. Each month, some 1,500 schoolchildren visit the $400,000 center - funded by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority - to see the garbage museum and other exhibits. A planetarium, auditorium, and environmental laboratory are nearby.
The garbage museum ``has been received exceptionally well'' since it opened in October, says Ms. Galli. ``Media attention and interest have been worldwide.''
Why here? Why now? ``New Jersey is a small state, land-wise, with a large population,'' says Ms. Galli. ``The crisis of `Where to put it all?' has hit us first.'' The Garden State was one of the first to feel the pinch of the landfill crisis now hitting much of the Northeast. And no wonder: Every American produces an average of 3.5 lbs. of trash a day - one ton per year.
Fifteen years ago, New Jersey had 300 landfills. Now there are but 12 still operating, says Robert Grant, HMDC spokesman. ``We export 50 percent of our garbage to other states,'' he says.
The problem is so intense that the New Jersey legislature is asking that by 1991, 25 percent of the state's waste stream be disposed of by alternate means, such as recycling and composting.
It's a huge problem, says Mr. Grant: ``Our garbage could be stacked six feet high on Route 80 from here to California every month.''
With the issue looming so large, ``we need education tools,'' he continues. ``Could someone 10 years ago have put up a garbage museum and not be ridiculed?''
Set over a marsh in the Hackensack River estuary - home or stopover point for more than 256 different species of birds - the center also faces a landfill. It is at the heart of the most densely populated area of the most densely populated state in America. The Manhattan skyline looms in the distance; condo developments seem to be inching closer.
``We're a hole in the doughnut,'' says Grant, speaking of the center's location in the wetlands.