Deposit slips, photographs, empty bags of feed for chickens, dogs and cats, office paper, mail opened and unopened, newspapers, magazines, plastic foam, junk food wrappers, plastic bags and even canceled checks.
All sorts of debris is caught like sails when the wind kicks up at the Billings Regional Landfill. Soaring items — called ‘blow-away’ — lodge in fences on both sides of Hillcrest Road and spill into a wide-open field across the street, also owned by the landfill.
"When the wind kicks up heavy like it did last week, there’s nothing much you can do," said Vester Wilson, superintendent of the city's Solid Waste Department.
On particularly windy days, Wilson or another supervisor monitor wind patterns at the landfill and wrestle tall temporary fences in an attempt to stop debris from blowing away. Sometimes that's not enough.
"An area fence can fill up in a matter of seconds and then it just hits it and goes over," he said.
A majority of the airborne trash doesn't blow off the pile at night. Employees spend time every day avoiding that.
"We cover it with dirt; we cover it with compost," Wilson said. They also spray on a layer of Posi-Shell, a product that creates a concrete-like coating over the pile, locking the garbage under the surface.
"Most of it blows when the truck is actually dumping the garbage," he said. Unbagged trash tossed in bins across the city gets stirred up when dumped into its final resting place.
In a windy place like Billings, blow-away can happen fairly often.
"As soon as we had it all cleaned up looking all nice, we had those winds kicking up last Wednesday," Wilson said.
That meant more work for landfill crews.
"For the last week, I've had two guys supervising 10 people picking up garbage around the landfill," he said.
On landfill property across Hillcrest Road, collecting trash isn't so easy. The freeze and thaw cycles have rendered the area too muddy to walk or drive on.
"We have not been able to get out there since late January," he said. "Their heels will just fill up with mud in two or three steps."
Wilson vows he will continue waging the war on stray garbage.
"I am putting in bids right now to put a 6-foot Cyclone fence along the outside of the landfill along Hillcrest Road," he said.
He also estimates a reduction in blow-away trash of 50 to 70 percent could be possible if residents put their trash in bags before dumping it.
"Recycle whatever you can recycle, burn whatever you can burn and bag the rest," he said.
A document released by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality titled, "Recycling in Billings," states many area grocery stores have receptacles for newspaper, aluminum cans and plastic bags.
For a full list of locations on where to take recyclables all around Montana, visit www.deq.mt.gov/Recycle/Where-to-Recycle_New.mcpx.