Landfill Tales

Published: The Miami Herald
Date: Monday, March 17, 2003

Ambrose Mitchell fastens his seat belt and sets in motion an 85,000-pound bulldozer whose silver-spike wheels rip apart unwanted objects.

From record players to wedding photos. From wooden door frames to fans.

Mitchell’s job site is the county landfill.

When he first started in 1990, the 2-year-old landfill was at ground level. Mitchell can track his 13-year career based on layers of trash, which now reach 75 feet – as tall as a five- or six-story building.

Mitchell shifts forward. Metal spikes rip through a floral-patterned mattress exposing its beige padding. Mitchell’s machine makes an old record player bend, and a white, wiry fan crack.

Crush. Crash. Crush. Crash.

He shifts into reverse, compacting these objects until they are unrecognizable.

“It’s sad to see some good things go. Furniture. Beautiful plates. Pictures. Paintings. Someone’s wedding photo,” Mitchell said. “What gets me is that parents save things and their children throw everything away. In most places, heirlooms are passed on . . . I’ve taught my children to save something for tomorrow. Kids don’t want what their parents had.”

Mitchell grew up in the mountainous island nation of Grenada. He’s driven a double-decker bus for a living in London. Later, he moved to New York and found work as a sanitation worker.

In 1990, he moved to South Florida and worked as a maintenance man for the county.

Mitchell and a crew of 26 get paid $10 to $20 an hour to crush trash.

About 188 tons of trash gets reduced to bits daily at the Broward County Landfill, which is west of the women’s prison on Sheridan Street and Southwest 205th Avenue.

It is the only county-run landfill and operates on a $2.5 million budget that mostly comes from fees, not taxpayers, said Bruce Jones, landfill operator.

Most household trash sent to the waste-energy plant is burned.

They accept tires, yard and tree clippings, old sofas, electronics, and appliances. Nothing flammable, though.

Still, fires do happen. On Friday morning, while garbage was being crushed, fire billowed from the the mound. There were no injuries, but it may never be known what caused it, Jones said.

“It could be something was brought in that was already smoldering,” Jones said.

The county landfill won’t accept bulk waste if it comes from these cities: Pembroke Pines, Dania Beach, Hallandale Beach, Pompano Beach and Parkland because these cities do not have contracts with the county.

But there’s a loophole.

“We work on the honor system,” Jones said. People sometimes lie about where the trash comes from.

Jones said his job is one few respect. But, he added, it’s a job that tells a story about what we value.

“What we throw away is a reflection of society,” Jones said. “It’s a shame. Nowadays people throw things away because the craftsmanship isn’t as good. It’s easier and cheaper to throw away. But what do I know? I’m just a landfill operator. I’m not a philosopher.”

On a recent morning, Mike Montagne, a yacht captain in Weston, felt no ties to his old college radio, which once blared his favorite tunes from the 1970s – from the Eagles’ Hotel California to America’s A Horse With No Name.

“Old junk from the attic,” Montagne said about the load on his SUV – from an old computer monitor to martini glasses and refrigerator drawers. “You should look at some of the stuff we’re keeping.”

Montagne is moving out of Country Isles to a bigger home at the Laguna Springs subdivision, both in Weston.

He paid $2 to Broward County Landfill scale clerk Jane Roch to dump his “old junk” into a dumpster.

Every vehicle is weighed – twice. Once when it drives in; then when it drives out. The scale clerks subtract the difference and charge $50 a ton. Individuals who bring household items pay a standard $2 fee because 2,000 pounds could not fit in a compact or SUV, Jones said.

Roch said the scale – which can weigh anything up to 200,000 pounds in 20-pound increments – doesn’t weigh only trash. Once, two women from an animal refuge center drove in with a live, caged striped Bengal tiger.

“They wanted to make sure he was gaining weight,” Roch said.

“He was. He weighed 520 pounds.”

Mornings are the busiest time of the day, when landscapers drive in with trucks containing broken branches, palm fronds and tree cuttings. Two men in an air-conditioning truck brought in a black, leather sofa and an assortment of wood panelings from old doors.

“The tenant left all these things,” said Isidro Pineda, 43, whose boss asked him to bring it to the landfill.

Jones said people sometimes come back saying they have mistakenly thrown away money.

Jones has had to rummage through the rotten-egg smelling pile of trash looking for it. But he usually comes up empty.

“It happens, occasionally,” he said.


The Broward County Landfill is at 7101 SW 205th Ave. It is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Bulk trash from Pembroke Pines, Dania Beach, Hallandale Beach, Pompano Beach and Parkland can be taken to Reuter Recycling of Florida at 20701 Pembroke Rd. in Pembroke Pines. It is open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday for commercial waste, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for residential waste; 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and holidays for commercial, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for residential.

Hazardous materials such as latex paint, gasoline, propane bottles or car batteries may be taken to: North Hazardous Waste Collection Center, 2780 N. Powerline Rd., Pompano Beach; South Hazardous Waste Collection Center, 5601 Hallandale Beach Blvd., Hollywood; Central Hazardous Waste, 5490 Reese Rd., Davie.

For more information on hazardous waste, call 954-960-3023.