July 02, 1992

Already preoccupied with what we eat, Americans are increasingly being reminded of the things we throw away. The latest waste product to go on the hit list is grass.

It appears that the quest for the supremely manicured lawn is responsible for 20 percent of all that is dumped in the nation's landfills, according to the Texas-based Professional Lawn Care Association. The association has been campaigning to get people to recycle their grass clippings. They have even coined the word grasscycling to capture the imagination of the pedestrian environmentalist.

The effort appears to be winning converts. Locally, Howard County's recycling program is trying to encourage residents to leave grass clippings on their lawns by retrofitting existing mowers with mulching blades, or by buying new mulching mowers. These mulching machines pulverize lawn clippings, eliminating unsightly build-up or thatch. Such finely chopped clippings benefit lawns by providing nutrients and offsetting drought.

Howard County officials estimate that 13 million pounds of grass clippings can be diverted from the county landfill annually through mulching, at a taxpayer savings of $300,000. Because Howard's program encourages recycling at the source, the hope is eventually to eliminate the costs of collecting grass clippings from the curb.

Some other suburbs in the region are creating their own composting facilities. Anne Arundel County is encouraging residents to bring their clippings to one of the county's three landfills, where they will be converted to compost to be used as landfill cover. Carroll and Harford counties are starting similar programs that either give or sell the compost to residents.

Baltimore County, meanwhile, is mounting a campaign to encourage residents to do their own composting or to adopt a more rudimentary form of grass recycling. The latter goes by its descriptive label "cut it high and let it lie."

Baltimore City is considering a grass recycling program for next year.

All of these efforts increase awareness about the things we throw away, even something as seemingly innocuous as grass. In this case, the best recycling program is the one that puts the waste to use right where it was created -- on the lawn.

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