Turn over an old leaf: Recycle garbage and garden debris and keep the earth healthy


September 29, 1990|By A. Cort Sinnes

The autumn leaves will soon be falling. And as if chasing them around the yard with a rake and a bag weren't enough, if you live in one of the 13 states that have already banned yard wastes from municipal landfills, this is the year you'll have to change some long-held habits: No more plastic sacks filled with leaves and other garden debris out there on the curb.

Within the next three years many more states will have followed suit, and the majority of the nation's gardeners will be recycling and composting in their respective back yards -- at least that's what a lot of people would like to see happen.

Realistically, commercial enterprises will crop up, offering to haul your bagged yard waste away for a nominal fee, just like in the "good ol' days." These companies will then compost your garden's waste out in the country somewhere and sell it back to you in the form of rich, dark, aromatic compost, the very best thing you can add to your shrub, flower and vegetable beds. Even though this is a strange case of "robbing Peter to sell back to Paul," undoubtedly many people will choose this option, rather than become involved in recycling at home.

That's too bad.

It's only human to be reluctant to change, but this is a change so beneficial for everyone and everything involved that all homeowners should think twice about it. Your yard is a microcosm of the environment at large. To recycle trash and waste right there on the property that produced it seems somehow right, doesn't it?

When you think about it, it's been only a couple of generations since we stopped burying all our household garbage in our back yards. Galvanized garbage cans and heavy-duty, large plastic bags are relatively recent introductions. I'm sure there was a hue and cry back then, too: "They want me to do what???! Put all my garbage in that itty-bitty can and leave it there for a week so every dog and cat in the neighborhood can get into it?? They've got to be crazy!"

Once again conditions have forced another generation of change: The EPA estimates that one-third of the nation's landfills will be filled by 1995. Recycling is an activity whose time has come.

The good news is that manufacturers have been developing products to make this next step in waste management as easy and painless as possible.

A big part of most people's refusal to recycle or compost at home is the result of simply not having a convenient, workable place to do it.

The design can be an elaborate, multipurpose structure or a simple bin tucked away in a corner. The important thing is to define a spot specifically for recycling and composting.

Where the recycling center should be placed is, of course, up to you. But don't fail to consider side yards or the far end of a large or deep lot.

With a little care in the design, construction and planting departments, the recycling center could be a visual asset to your landscape, an "eye-catcher." You might even want to place a bench up against the front of it and provide yourself with a nice protected spot to sit and survey your lovely garden.

I bet I know what just went through your mind: "Why would anyone want to sit next to that smelly old compost pile?" To which I would respond: "If it's done right, your compost pile won't smell any more than any other part of your garden." In fact, when it is done, your compost will have that wonderful, good earth fragrance. Here are a few tips:

*Most first attempts at making compost fail because the material in the center of the pile didn't reach a high enough temperature (somewhere around 140 degrees Fahrenheit).

*In order to reach the right temperature to actively break down the ingredients in the pile, three things must be present (in addition to the waste material you are composting): air, moisture and nitrogen.

*Provide sufficient air space by shredding or chipping the material before putting it on the pile. It also helps if air can reach the bottom of the pile. This can be accomplished by using a piece of screen, raised a couple of inches off the ground or by making an open arrangement of bricks the base for your compost pile.

*To keep it from getting too wet, it helps if your pile is covered. Ideally, it should be about as damp as a squeezed-out sponge at all times.

*Provide the nitrogen the microorganisms need (they're the good guys who do the work of breaking down the waste) with blood meal, manure or inorganic fertilizer. Other good options are the products specifically made to speed up decomposition, sold as "compost boosters" or "compost makers."

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