For my qualitative research methods class I was asked to visit a particular place twice to experiment with a (very brief) ethnographic field study. All the names included here are fictitious, and were only included to try to help provide a sense of narrative in places. I’ve uploaded most of the photos I took to a Flickr album, but you will see some of them interspersed with the text. This was also an experiment in trying out the technique of live field notes, which is why you are seeing them here.

Please feel free to leave comments at the bottom or to annotate inline by highlighting regions of the text…thanks Hypothesis! Oh, and sorry about the typos.


For my field study practice I decided to study the Montgomery County’s Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station, which is a public dump in Montgomery County. I thought it would be interesting to look at because it is a piece of public infrastructure that I knew was accessible for people to drive their vehicles in to drop off materials that the ordinary trash pickup wouldn’t take: paints, gasoline, electronics, large amounts of yard waste, etc. I also had some things I needed to drop off so I thought it would be a good way to participate in the activity.

Shady Grove Processing Facility

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 5.53.32 PM

On my first visit I learned that while it is open to the public the facility is actually a public/private space where companies routinely dropped off large amounts of trash and other companies took it away. It was easy to identify the individuals working there because they wore fluorescent vests, and yellow hard hats. I learned that most of these individuals were not state employees, but worked for a contracting company named Covanta Energy, which is a publicly traded corporation. Maryland Environmental Service is the state partner in the facility. The boundaries between what was Covanta and what was MES weren’t completely clear to me, but the people I spoke with seemed to have a sense of it. As I was told by one employee:

Trash is big business.

The facility was equipped with lots of heavy machinery (bulldozers, and trucks) and had a train with many containers for transferring trash to an incinerator in Dickerson, Maryland.

Cranes for lifting containers onto the train.

This incinerator is a mass burn facility, that is owned and operated by Covanta, and burns the trash to generate electricity and to also extract metals. Paints were collected and recycled for local consumers who wanted to pick them up, and also shipped to Honduras where the paint was used in some fashion. I learned from one employee that the gasoline and other hazardous materials were transferred by truck to incinerators in Texas and Arkansas.

On my first visit I intentionally identified myself as a student and asked if it would be OK if I took pictures and took some notes. I was told that would be fine. But I learned that my presence was in fact being monitored the whole time. Employees had walkie talkies and I could hear constant conversations being broadcast. After I had been there for an hour and a half I was approached by three people who wanted to know what I was doing. They took a picture of my drivers license “just in case” it was needed. They were clearly concerned about the security of the facility. Just as I was documenting my experience dropping off trash there, I was myself the subject of documentation.

As I interacted with the employees I was struck by their friendliness and willingness to talk about their work. Many welcomed my interest in what they did. Even when I was being questioned myself it was clear that the employees were proud of what they were doing. Employees were in constant communication with people who were dropping off material to help people find the right place to drop particular materials off. I also observed employees sorting materials themselves, for example: finding a working bicycle in the scrap metal and moving to an area for working bicycles. On both my visits I noticed several members of the public who were there to pick up materials in addition to dropping things off. In many ways it was more like a market than a dump.

On my second visit I was much more comfortable because I didn’t stay in one place for a long time while taking notes on my phone and taking pictures…like I had the first time. I also felt more comfortable entering into conversation with people there since I knew they were proud and interested in their work. I was more comfortable waiting to jot down some notes until I was back in my car and moving on somewhere else.

Cellular phones prohibited.

I noticed the no cell phones sign on my first visit, and after being discouraged from taking pictures I thought perhaps that was the reason. But I learned that the primary reason was that they are a potential hazard around flammable material. This made me reflect on how easy it is to jump to particular conclusions, and how important it is to being open to alternate and multiple interpretations of events.

This was my first time doing an ethnographic field study in the small, and I was struck by how enjoyable it was to really pay close attention to things I might otherwise ignore. The conversations made me appreciate this important infrastructure work to reuse materials that are discarded. It made me wonder about the connection between corporations and governments. What are the processes that are handled by businesses, and what are handled by the government? What is the division of labor, and how do they interact? What are the policy and legal implications? What does it mean for this infrastructure to be sustained by a publicly traded company? The processing plant seemed like a rich and unique site for exploring these questions.

A couple few hour trips were barely enough to scratch the surface. A real study would involve contacting officials in MES and Covanta to get approval, and IRB approval. Ideally I would need to work in the facility, perhaps helping sort materials, and answering questions. One thing I wanted to do in this experiment was to try studying up. I think focusing on public/private infrastructure like recycling initiatives that are deeply connected to energy systems provided a way to do that.

Field Notes

Below are my field notes that I wrote up after each visit using photos and jottings I created using my iPhone. In addition I drew on audio recordings I made on leaving the facility.


I loaded up my car with some large tree branches that fell during a storm, a large plastic paddling pool that we no longer use, and an old bike and left for the Shady Grove Recycling Center at 10AM. It was a 20 minute ride along two major highways, 495 and 270. The center was open from 9 to 5 on Sundays. I thought about taking the metro there and just walking in, but I wonder if they even allowed that. I thought it would be better if I turned up with some actual recycling to drop off, so I would experience it more.

Leaving with some stuff from the garage.

I made some audio notes with Voice Memos as I drove along the road. Mostly I was feeling a bit uncertain about how easy it would be to observe and take notes without being conspicuous. I was also feeling self-conscious about paying attention to things so closely. Noting things like the weather and the traffic along the road. Also think about William Bourrough’s technique of journaling and recording things, as part of his fiction writing. This train of thought reminded of this paragraph in Writing Ethnographic Field Notes:

Ethnographers learn to experience through the senses in antipiation of writing: to recall observed scenes and interactions like a reporter; to remember dialogue and movement like an actor; to see colors, shapes, textures, and spatial relations as a painter or photographer; and to sense moods, rhythms and tone of voice like a poet.

I think I was taking myself a little bit too seriously, but it made things more fun. On arrival I tried to take a photograph of the signs at the entrance. There was someone in a pickup truck with a fluorescent yellow vest who was watching people enter, but not stopping people. I noticed a less official looking sign for Yard Waste, and followed it to the left. To the left there were some large buildings that looked like they had loading areas for trucks. There was also someone else with a fluorescent vest walking near those buildings.

More heavy machinery.

Some heavy machinery, bulldozers mostly were also there. To the right was a cement structure with multiple large diagonal entrances. I missed the sign pointed to the right for Yard Waste and ended up on a road that led out of the facility. I thought about turning around but it was a one way road. There was another person in a truck at the exit who was watching people leave. I felt a bit like my movement through the facility was controlled.

I re-entered the facility by going around to the entrance and going in again, passing by the same person in a truck. This time I followed both signs for Yard Waste. There was someone watching the entrance to the Yard Waste area. She wore a yellow vest. The rental truck in front of me stopped to ask her a question and then went off to the right to another part of the facility. As I passed her I heard her speaking in Spanish to someone on her walkie-talkie.

I entered the Yard Waste area, and went to the left and parked my car near a large pile of yard waste. It looked to be mostly bramble, thorns, vines, branches, Christmas trees, leaves, that sort of thing.

Refuse Pile

I got out of the car and nodded to Dave who was wearing a vest and the yellow hard hat. I opened up my trunk and began to take some notes on my phone using the Notes application. I noticed about 4 other vehicles there, all pickup trucks, dropping off various types of debris: wood, branches, etc. There were two other workers there with hard hats and vests: Jane and Susan. Someone was sweeping out the back of their pickup truck into one of the piles. Another pickup truck pulled in and they asked Dave if they could park on one side of the pile. Dave said yes, but they drove off a bit too far from the pile towards a large wood chipper machine and Dave whistled loudly for them to come back. It turned out they were just trying to reverse to be closer to the pile. Three Hispanic men got out of the pickup truck and quickly started unloading about 20-30 large pieces of wood that appeared to be from the same tree. It only took them about five minutes, and then they jumped back in their truck and left the way they had come in.

At this point Dave (who was about 20-30 feet away) noticed me taking notes, smiled and asked “Do you want to work here today?”. I smiled and said “Yeah”. I then thought now would be a good time to ask if it was OK for me to be there taking notes and taking some pictures. So I stood up and started walking over to Dave. I noticed Jane looking over at me, and drawing away. I suddenly felt quite self-conscious. Their walkie-talks are loudly relaying some message that I can’t make out. I can tell it is in English.

Me: Hi, I dropped off some wood, but I’m taking a class where we have to go take notes about a place and I was wondering if I could do that here? Is that ok?

Dave: Yes, that’s ok.

Me: So can I go take a picture of that pile of pylons over there.

Dave: Yes, that’s fine.

Me: Ok, thanks!

(I go take a picture of the pylons)

Me: Could I get your picture too?

Dave: Yes, sure.

(Take picture)

Me: Thanks so much.

Dave was very friendly and I feel good that it’s ok for me to walk around and take some notes and pictures. I then went back to my car. I overheard a middle aged white man Jeff talking to Dave. I couldn’t really hear what Dave was saying, but caught bits of what Jeff said.

Jeff: Nice day out here.

Jeff: They’re soft but they move a lot when the wind blows.

Jeff: The house I bought, the people bought live Christmas trees and now they are 60 feet tall.

(it looks like Jeff had cut down these trees, and is bringing them in pieces to the dump)

I got back in my car and drive around to where I entered. I ask Jane if I need to go out of the complex to drop off other materials and she says there’s no need and that I can go on a short road to the left up to the other part of the facility.

I go up there and am uncertain about where to go. There are 4 or 5 cars moving around in a pretty tight place. I notice a sign for Mixed Paper. I decide to park my car there even though I didn’t have any paper to drop off. There were big dumpster like bins below the road that I was on. There was a yellow fence that was in front to prevent people from falling in. I noticed some large containers further away near some railroad tracks. The containers have large numeric codes on them like NEAU 377, NEAU 027, etc. I also saw some other signs for Used Books, Bottles and Cans, Hazardous Waste, Car Tires, Plastic.

Hazardous Waste area

Two black men Gary and Tony were having a conversation and appeared to be joking. They then went into a small booth and sat there for a few minutes. During that time I noticed one of them looking over at me. I was typing some notes on my phone as he exited the booth and walked over towards me.

Me: How’s it going?

Tony: Good and you?

Me: I’m good.

I briefly think about asking if it’s ok if I take notes, but think perhaps it isn’t necessary. Tony goes over to the used book area and looks briefly at some of the books. Tony returns to the booth. I get the Paddle Pool out of the back of my car and walk over to the booth to ask where it should go. Before I can ask Gary says:

Gary: Yellow sign.

Me: Oh, I was wondering where I should put this.

Gary: Yellow sign.

Tony: Yes go over there by the yellow sign and put it in there.

Me: Ok, thanks

I throw the pool in the large dumpster. I can see lots of other plastic items in there. I can also see the loading area and cranes better from here. I go back to my car and notice 3 other cars dropping various types of things off. An elderly couple park, pop their trunk and get out to put some things in the dumpsters. I see they’ve got 7 or 8 well organized grocery bags full of something. The man has a cane and is walking slowly.

I get back in my car and drive about 40 feet over to the Hazardous Waste area. I park and get some cans of paint out of the back of my car. Two black men, Vince and James are there behind a table where things can be dropped off.

Me: Is this the right place to drop off some paint?

Vince: Yeah.

I then go back to the car and can hear brief snippets of a conversation between them:

Vince: … Oh snap

James: … woman down there …

Vince: … Not Rob but uh …

(another man comes up and puts something on the table)

Howard: How are you doing?

Vince (to James): … so that just came out of the blue?

I go over with a few more cans of paint.

Vince: That’s everything sir?

Me: I think so. Is there a place to drop off bikes?

Vince: Is it usable?

Me: Sort of usable.

Vince: Metal

Me: Ok thanks

One of three scrap metal areas.

I get back into my car and pull over to the scrap metal area. There are three different piles with their own three sided enclosures. Mine is piled high with quite a bit of metal. It reminds me of being a kid visiting the dump again for some reason. I wonder if I can take anything if it is useful. I get the small bike out of the back of my car. Immediately one younger and one older Hispanic man in a pickup truck pull up nearby. Juan notices the bike and asks:

Juan: Dropping off?

Me: Yes.

Juan: Can I have it?

Me: Sure, the chain just is rusted but otherwise it’s not in bad shape.

Juan takes the bike and puts it in the back of his pickup truck. He continues to remove some things and add them to the pile. I see a couple in their mid 20s sitting in their car just waiting for something. I notice that people are moving in and out of this area quickly. I start feeling a bit like conspicuous for some reason. I take some pictures of the metal trash, walking into the area a bit to get closer. I see a filing cabinet that has a Maryland State Police sticker on it. Right next to it is another filing cabinet that appears to have some files peeking out.

I notice that it’s quite noisy with people throwing metal on the pile in the various locations. There are probably about 6 or 7 vehicles in the area. A black man with a yellow vest and hard hat is nearby watching. I don’t notice if it Gary or Tony. But this area is very close to the booth they were in. I think it might be Tony. I hear a woman who is dropping off material nearby ask:

Annette: I have a cabinet with a sink.

Tony: Is it mostly wood?

Annette: Yes.

Tony: Take it to trash.

I see lots of microwaves. One man has a full pickup truck, that he is sorting through. He pulls out a bed frame and throws it on the pile. Three asian men pull up and all get out, and get stuff out of the back of their van. They pull out two bikes and put them in the pile. After they leave Tony goes over and examines one of the bikes. He then wheels it over to another area, and leaves the other one.

I found myself thinking about the movie Wallie, I guess because of this sorting process, and finding things that work.

Oil recycling.

I walk over to the booth area where there are large containers for pouring liquids. One is for used oil, another is for antifreeze. A man is pouring some antifreeze into one. There is a metal mesh that only allows liquid in. The container is labeled 2000 gallon capacity. It appears to be full. I take some pictures of each and return to the scrap metal area.

An older man (60 years old) drops off a couple of metal disks that appear to be from a car brake system. Tony then tells me I need to move my car. I notice a bulldozer has started up and is pushing large amounts of the metal into the back of the 3 walled area.

Tony: You need to move.

Me: ok (smiling)

Tony: You don’t have to leave, you can go somewhere else to do that (makes motion of typing on a smart phone).

Me: Ok thanks.

I get back in my car and drive about 100 feet away to the garbage area. I pass three men with the yellow vests and hats that are talking at the entrance. I back into one of the spots. There appears to be about 30 or so different parking areas that abut on some large enclosed dumpsters that you can throw material down into. There are about 10 different vehicles parked there. People come in and out of the area quickly, only staying about 5 minutes or so.

Paint splattered bumpers.

There is a sign that says “No Paint Dumping”. It appears like the dumpsters and surrounding area have been splattered with lots of paint that is now dry. The dumpsters are large, about 50 feet long and 10 feet wide. It looks like they can be pulled out sideways. I realize that I’m looking at the same structure I saw on the way in with the diagonal doors. It looks like the dumpsters can be pulled out when full.

I watch as 10 other vehicles pull up and throw garbage bags and chairs and plastic sheets into the dumpsters. Some are couples, some are men and women who are alone. Ages are from 20s up into 60s or so. In this area the vehicles are more varied, not just pickup trucks. One man is smoking a cigar. It occurs to me now that this wasn’t allowed given the signs at the entrance. I also notice a sign that says “No Cellular Phones” which strikes me as odd. I have been openly using my phone to take pictures and am feeling a bit awkward. It has been a bit more than an hour (I can see from photo timestamps) so I decide to leave.

Panorama of the televisions.

I get back into my car and head out of the garbage area and follow the signs for the exit. This is the same road I entered on where I had seen the back of the dumpster building. This time I notice a long row of televisions that are wrapped in plastic. I stop my car and turn on the hazards to take a picture because it is so striking. After taking a few panoramic photos I hear someone shout over to me:

Greg: Hey!

Me: Hi, yes?

Greg approaches from about 40 feet away with a bag of potato chips. He is wearing a yellow vest and hat.

Greg: Hey what are you doing there?

Me: Oh Hi, I’m taking a class where I need to take notes about a place.

Greg: Ok. We’ve been noticing you walking around this guy is going to want to ask you some questions.

A pickup truck pulls up and large man gets out.

Me: Hi, like I just explained to your colleague I’m just taking a class, where I need to take some notes about about a particular place. I decided to try to use this place. I’m not a journalist or anything.

Tom: Have you been taking pictures?

Me: Yes, mostly of the facility.

Tom: Have you taken a pictures of people? Because you would need consent for that.

I’m surprised and impressed that he uses the word “consent”.

Me: Well, not really. I did ask in the Yard Waste area if I could take a picture of someone and they said Ok.

Tom continues to look at me. I notice him looking behind me, and another man coming up from behind. I turn to face him and notice he isn’t wearing the standard yellow vest and hat.

Ralph: (smiling) Hi so what are you doing?

Me: I’m taking a class at the University of Maryland, where we need to do an ethnography, or study a particular place. I’m not a journalist.

Ralph: Oh is that College Park?

Me: Yes

Ralph: Ok, but you can’t do that here. We have noticed you taking notes here all morning.

Me: Well, I think I have only been here an hour.

Ralph: Ok, but we have to be careful with people around here. You know these times we are living in. We have to be careful.

He makes me think of terrorism, without him actually saying the word terrorism. I nod in agreement.

Ralph: Can I see your ID please? Tom do you have a phone I can take a picture of.

Me: Would it be ok if I come back next weekend. I need to do two observations.

Ralph: No, you would need to talk to my supervisor. If you pull over to the entrance I can meet you there and give you that information.

Me: Ok, thanks.

I get back in my car and pull back to the entrance for the Yard Waste area. I then see Dave who is now watching the entrance:

Dave: are you leaving?

Me: somewhat confused, yes.

I pull out of the exit, but pull off to the side and put on my hazards. Dave eventually comes over:

Dave: can you move your car further away?

Me: yes I’m waiting for someone who is going to give me some information about a supervisor.

Dave: ok

I wait about 10 minutes and then Ralph pulls up in his truck.

Me: so I’m sorry if I caused any trouble. I thought it was ok to take pictures and notes while I am here. It was just an ethnography exercise for my class.

Ralph: so what is Ethnography again?

Me: you know how people would study cultures by going and immersing themselves in a culture? Well nowadays people will do the same studies by going and being part of a particular activity and I thought this facility would be interesting.

Ralph: I see. I can tell you some information if you want.

Me: Oh, that would be great.

Ralph: This facility is funded by the EPA, 12 million per year. The waste is loaded onto trains that take it to an incinerator in Dickerson.

Me: But the metal, that doesn’t get incinerated does it?

Ralph: No we have different companies pick up the recycling. I am an employee, but most of the people working here that you saw work for a contracting company called Covanta Energy. The workers who work in the yard waste are from MES (Maryland Environmental Service). There are two different services one for residents and the other for businesses. The businesses pay a bond that allows them to drop off here. See those stations there are for weighing the trash. They can drop off 20 tons of trash per month and if they don’t drop off that much some of their bond is taken away.

Me: Interesting that sounds like its the opposite of what I would’ve expected. I thought that if you brought too much trash they would take money away.

Ralph: No, trash is big business. People pay for it. It is valuable. Some people just come here and leave without thinking about it. But it is important what goes on here.

I nod.

Ralph: here is the contact information for my supervisor, you can arrange for a tour if you want to look around again.

Me: Can I take a tour of the building over there? I seem to remember seeing that on the website.

Ralph: Yes, they do tours of that facility where they separate the trash.

Me: Ok, great maybe I will do that next weekend. I appreciate all your help.

During this conversation he shook my hands three times. One time he held on to my hand for what felt like a long time. Maybe I was being a bit paranoid, but I felt like was trying to tell if he could trust me. I was sitting in my car this whole time and he was speaking to me in through the open window. In hindsight it reminded me a bit of being in a conversation with a police officer where you are asked to remain in the car.

I left the site. I made a recording about my experience there. I can see reviewing the recording, that I was a bit taken aback by three people coming up and questioning me. I was feeling a little bit rattled. I was struck by the Trash Is Big Business. I also reflected on how it seemed like a public space but in reality it wasn’t with those big businesses in operation there. I thought that my taxes paid for it, but perhaps they don’t. It was a quasi public space that seems public but is not.

It was also interesting how I was documenting them, and they were documenting me. They were watching most of the time, and then took a picture of my license. I felt a little bit about how my privacy was being invaded a little bit. In some ways I invited this by Studying Up. I was also a bit thrown off because the first person I spoke with Dave indicated it was OK for me to take notes and photos. But in hindsight perhaps I should’ve asked multiple people when I interacted with them. Finally it seems notable that Ralph was interested in understanding what ethnography is.


On Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 1PM I arrived back at the recycling center. I brought some material to drop off again: some large tree branches, some old paint cans and a large broken patio umbrella. This time I drove my car directly to the Hazardous Waste area to drop off the paint. I talked to a middle aged African American man named Sam:

Me: Hi, I am taking a class where we have to describe a particular place and I was wondering if you could tell me why there are signs for no cell phones.

Sam: That’s because we have gasoline nearby, and the cellphones could cause a spark, which would be dangerous.

While we are talking a middle aged woman is waiting behind me, so I step to the side.

Maria: Is there any white paint today?

Sam: No, none right now you might want to try next week.

Maria: Ok.

She goes back to her car and tells a man inside that they told her there wasn’t any paint.

Me: Oh, so can people come and get paint.

Sam: Yes, sometimes full cans of paint that are perfectly good are dropped off. You can sign a waiver and get it.

Me: Oh nice, do you recycle other things.

Sam: Yes, see those boxes up there? They get filled up with the paints and sent to Honduras, where they are used to paint buildings.

Me: Oh, wow. What happens to the gasoline you were mentioning, does that get loaded onto the train?

Sam: No big trucks come and pick that up and send it to incinerators in Texas and Arkansas.

Me: So it gets sent pretty far?

Sam: Yes.

I get back in my car to move on to the general trash area. On my way I notice that there is a vegetable oil recycling area that I didn’t see last time. I also see an electronics recycling area, where the televisions I saw last time are processed by two men.

As I pull into the garbage area I see Greg from last week talking to someone in a van that is pulling in. He gives some directions about where they should go, and I drive past him. I pull up next to the van. Two young Hispanic men get out, and start unloading what looks like wood from a house construction site. I throw my umbrella in the garbage dumpster and get back in my car.

I’m conscious of not spending as much time at each station to take notes since that’s how I attracted people’s attention last time.

I drive around the back of the garbage area to get to the yard waste area. On the way I notice the large, nondescript concrete building to the left which is quite tall relative to other buildings around. It has no windows and a pile of rubble outside. I notice a man driving a truck the size of an 18 wheeler, but the vehicle seems designed for this facility, not for the road. The cabin for the truck is half the size of a normal truck cabin. It seems to be bringing trash or something out of the large building. There is a symbol on the side of the truck that says Covanta Energy.

Trucks with stranage half cabins.

As I pull up to the entrance of the yard waste area I wait in line behind a large U-Haul truck. I can see a woman with a yellow vest and hard hat talking to someone in the driver seat. The back of the truck is half open, and I can see Dave from last week inspecting the contents. He waves to the woman indicating that things are ok. I can see a large amount of branches and shrubs filling up the entire inside of the truck. Dave notices me and comes over:

Dave, smiling: You are back again? Still working on your class?

Me: Hi, yes, haha. I have a few things I wanted to drop off, but won’t stay long this time.

I’m conscious of how I could have possibly gotten him into trouble last time since he said it was ok for me to take pictures and take notes. I am relieved to see him at ease and doing his job like normal.

Dave: If you want to go around again you will need to talk to the guy.

He gestures at a building off to the left, but I’m not sure which one.

Me: Yes, I won’t be staying long this time. Thanks!

Dave: No problem.

The U-Haul truck advances into the area and reverses backwards next to a large pile of branches. The woman motions to me to park right next to the U-Haul truck. After parking I get out, and start moving the branches I have in my car into the pile. A young couple have gotten out of the U-Haul truck and are pulling the branches out and adding them to the pile.

I look over and notice that the large pile I had added my branches to last week is now completely gone, or mostly gone. The position of the wood chipping machine has moved.

I get back in my car and circle around the large nondescript building. I see some signs, and some cars and trucks waiting in a line on a ramp to enter the building. I continue circling around the building and notice a large 18 wheeler tank truck, with a hose attached to it, and the host connected to a nozzle on the ground. It looks like liquid is being drained from the tank trunk into some sort of reservoir below ground. But I suppose it could also be pulling liquid out. The side of the bus says MES, or Maryland Environmental Service.

I loop back around the building and this time take the ramp up into the building. I notice a sign indicating only vehicles with 500 lbs can go in. From last week I assume that is a minimum weight not a maximum weight. I wait for about 10 minutes with about 12 other vehicles that are in two rows. A Hispanic man with a yellow vest and hard hat is talking to the drive of each vehicle, and then the vehicles enter. I notice a sign warning that people entering need to have a hard hat and eye protection.

When it is my turn to talk to the inspector at the entrance I explain that I was just curious what was inside the building and don’t have anything to drop off. He says that is fine and tells me to turn on my headlights and drive straight through the building. As I drive slowly through the building I notice how high the ceiling is. It must be about 50 feet high. There is a smell of trash and a chemical smell. I notice that unlike other parts of the dump the trash here is dumped on the floor. I also see a lower level that appears to have bulldozers and other heavy machinery operating pushing trash around. It appears to me that this area is for quickly dumping trash and moving on. And I find myself wondering if this is where garbage trucks dump their trash so that it can be packed together and loaded into containers for the train to the incinerator.

I continue out the other side of the building and follow the road to the exit. I find myself reflecting on how the traffic flows are largely one way, and the flow of vehicles is controlled like a river. There are quite a few more cars and trucks here today compared to last Sunday. As I leave I notice the weighing stations that Ralph mentioned the last time. I also see an office near the exit. I wonder if the flow of traffic is different during the week, since it seems like the office and weighing stations are situated for large vehicles entering to drop off trash in the large facility.


Below are the jottings I made on both days using the Notes application on my iPhone. My use of these was not to completely document particular things but just to quickly write down things that would jog my memory later.


Shady Grove Recycling

Not much talking

Have a good day sir

About three people working in first area.

Two or three people unloading

A speaking Spanish on phone

B giving directions about where to go

B Whistle

3 men Unloading big blocks of wood

Pickup trucks

Sweeping out the back of truck

Mostly African American and Hispanic

American flag flying from Volvo construction vehicle

Only here for like 5 mins

Feeling a bit conspicuous may move on to drop off more

Pylons in one area

Wave Want to work with us today? Yeah I dropped off wood, but I am taking a class. Can I take photos?

Man in pickup to B Nice day out here They’re soft but they move slot and then the wind blows The house I bought the people bought live Christmas trees and now they are 60 feet tall

Walkie talkie in English Leaves sticks vines paper bags of stuff did thorns

Another pickup pulls up, looks over,

Two guys in booth cracking jokes Notices me Comes over whistling I ask how are you doing ; he says good He starts inspecting books

Woman breaking down boxes Big containers with codes on them.

Woman questions about whether some binders are just trash. Just trash.

“Yellow sign sir”

Elderly couple with well organize paper shopping bags of things about 8. He has a cane.

Oh snap Woman down there Not dan but uh

How are you doing So that just came out of the blue?

That’s everything sir? I think so Is there a place for bikes Is it usable or not usable Sorta usable Metal

You dropping? Two Hispanic guys, support belt who are dropping tbjngs off ask for bike Couple people waiting in car

Old filing cabinet with md state police Microwave drop off Noisy

I have cabinet with a sink Is it mostly wood? Take it to trash

Man drop off bed frame In and out

Man drop off Xmas tree stand

White Man with pickup with lots of stuff in back, sorting.

Elderly Man dropping off 2 cartons of oil

3 men dropping off 2 bikes, a couch

Worker moving fridge across pavement Inspecting things afterwards Pulled a bike out of metal pile men just out in, left the other one.

Thinking about wallie

Man dropping of two disks from wheel

You need to move, bulldozer If you need to motion of cellphone use

Man with cigar throwing trash

Black woman throwing garbage bags in trash. Old Cadillac.

Throwing old wooden chairs in trash

Young man throng newish baby chairs in trash.

You want to do it now?

Noticing paint marks.

Lots of car traffic

Worker observing what is in trash container by leaning over edge

Question about oil. This is sealed.

Workers in areas: 3, 2, 2, 3

Older woman throwing garbage bags and plastic sheets

Took pictures of tvs

One man came over asked what I was doing

Man pulled up in pickup asked what I was doing said I needed to consent to take pictures

Man without fluorescent vest asked me what I was doing.

Worries about security. You know these times we are leaving

Brief interview with

EPA 12 milllion 7-5 Dickerson, incinerated

Outside contractors

People pay 20 tons trash

Trash is business Revenue

Covanna recycling MES

Peter Karasik, section chief 240-472-9877

Trash is big business.

Most people come in and out and don’t even think about it.

Man told me they often have big arguments with people who come there, about where the trash should go.


Paint goes to Honduras and people can come up and get paint if the sign s waiver

Middle aged woman came up and asked about paint and was told to come back next week when they had some

Other man asked if it was ok to drop cans with no paint he said he would take car of it

Gas goes to Incinerator in Texas or Arkansas

Vegetable oil recycling

Electronics area

2 Hispanic men throwing wood from construction in trash

2 inspecting ,.. full of sticks and branches

Strange trucks

Dave recognized me: back again?

Be sure you speak to the man in office.

Mes 18 wheeler truck dumping liquid

Lots of traffic 10 ca

Metro station nearby

Office closed on Saturday lp

Weird truck cabs, 1/2 of a cab pulling things around in/out of solid waste

Waiting in line, 8 cars, solid waste building

Can separation facility is on site but not sure where it is

Beeping sounds of machines backing up

Smell of chemicals or trash

Guard asking questions and giving directions


Trash on ground

Traffic flows

Covamta energy on trucks

500 lb limit z


Geese flying

Feels good to pay attention

Wonder how many other facilities there are looking at all these businesses along this Rockville like thinking about the trash they generate