Trash removal has never been a glamorous job, but it is certainly an essential one.

One of the residual effects of superstorm Sandy is a new respect for the workers who are cleaning up after her, lot by lot, street by street, town by town.

The capricious storm left some shore towns devastated, others seriously wounded and others just messy. But in each, public workers driving front-end loaders and dump trucks have been putting in long hours to remove debris from streets and flood-damaged properties, enabling our slow return to normalcy.

Anyone driving through these towns in the days and weeks following the storm would be struck by the sheer amount of debris. On some streets, piles of carpeting, drywall and ruined clothing, televisions and refrigerators stood in front of nearly every home.

And it all has to go somewhere.

In many places, it is first going to trash staging areas - to get it out from in front of homes and businesses - and then to landfills. In the nine days following the storm, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority saw an 81 percent increase in waste compared to the same period in 2011.

To try to handle the unprecedented amount of debris, the state Department of Environmental Protection is taking emergency steps.

The DEP expedited permits for local debris staging areas and authorized waste facilities to stay open 24 hours a day through this week to handle the added workload. It is also issuing temporary registrations so that additional trucks and equipment can be recruited for the cleanup effort.

The measures recognize that this storm-damaged material has to be disposed of quickly - before it becomes a health hazard. But it is just as important that it is disposed of properly and that Sandy's aftermath doesn't become an excuse to cut corners on important environmental safeguards.

The New Jersey Sierra Club warned last week that the mountains of debris generated by the cleanup can't simply be dumped into landfills. Guidelines for composting or recycling whatever debris we can must still be followed. And waste-management teams must be especially careful about separating industrial and household chemicals from the stream of trash headed for dumps.

"Otherwise," warned Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, "We will be turning our landfills into Superfund sites."

The other danger is that, as in every situation, some people won't want to follow the rules and will dump trash illegally, potentially polluting vacant lots and sensitive coastal areas.

The DEP has announced stepped-up enforcement of laws against illegal dumping and is asking residents to help by reporting suspicious dumping to local police or to the DEP emergency hotline at 877 WARNDEP.

It's bad enough that New Jersey has such a large cleanup effort ahead of it. We can't allow improper disposal of this material to compound the environmental disaster.

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