Composting, Not Dumping

Posted by By at 22 May, at 07 : 10 AM Print

A story in the Lehigh Valley “Express-Times” last week told of a public hearing about a 96,000 square foot composting facility proposed for Upper Mount Bethel Township. The company behind the proposal was touting its intention to employ 25 people.

Doris MacPherson, an area resident, attended the hearing to find out what materials were going to be placed in the proposed “dump.”

“Ma’am, first of all it is not a dump. It will never be a dump. … It is the exact opposite of a dump,” the Express-Times quoted David Jordan, attorney for McGill Environmental Services, the company behind the posed composter.

I was raised with both composting and a town dump. They are not the same thing.

Table scraps went to the compost pile. Also tossed in the pile – or a special barrel from the local home improvement store – would be straw, leaves grass clippings, and in Fall, plants that have had their season and died. Turn the mixture over periodically to keep it moist and full of oxygen, and billions or microscopic critters take care of the rest.

In Spring, we plowed it all under and started over. Crops were good.

When I was a lad, stuff that would not compost would be taken on Saturday morning to the town dump – an old pocket book that had mostly fallen apart. Bicycle parts in need of other bicycle parts. Inoperative washing machines.

The dump was a recycling enter. If someone needed a particular washing machine part — say, the rollers that would squeeze water from the wet, newly washed, clothing — the dump was the place to look. If a radio stopped working, the dump could be a place to find a similar unit with tubes — large glass units that controlled electronic devices in the days before transistors, which were before integrated circuit chips, which were before …

And dumps were Saturday morning Facebook BC – before computers. Neighbors caught up on gossip, learned who had a tractor for sale and who needed one if the price was right. When you came home from Saturday morning at the dump, you knew who was planting, who was harvesting, who had a baby and whose “baby” had “shipped out” with the U.S. Navy. We didn’t have cell phones. Many of us had no phone at all, even at home.

But everyone had the town dump.

But we humans became more sophisticated with our chemicals and more disposable-oriented with just about everything. We built houses and crowded around the dumps, then closed the dumps and created landfills and hired companies to make our trash disappear from where we dumped it at our curbs.

Back in the day, we might have changed the oil and dumped it behind the barn. One person could not dump enough oil to cause a problem – or so we thought. After awhile, we dumped it at the dump, along with an assortment of other chemicals, including some that didn’t exist when I was a lad.

When all that new stuff corroded and rusted and rotted and mixed, it made a toxic soup that wasn’t good for the water supply. So we switched from community dumps to landfills – farther from sight, much bigger than any dump and, theoretically leak-proof.

But a properly operated composter, whether a barrel purchased from the home improvement store or built in commercial proportions, does not leak and does not stink. You put all your banana peels, potato skins, and maybe some newspaper, leaves or grass trimmings, into a pile or barrel, turn it over periodically to keep it moist and full of oxygen, and let a few billion microscopic critters eat the stuff.

What they leave behind is nutrient-rich, odor-free dirt that can be spread on and mixed into flower and veggie gardens. Just like in the old days, only bigger.

A commercial-size composter operation would add a step to remove non-organic stuff such as plastic bags and dead batteries, which would be hauled off to the local dump, uh, landfill.

Doris MacPherson likely was familiar with the history of the town dump, and less knowledgeable about municipal composters. I’m guessing she knew she didn’t want some of those nameless chemicals poisoning her water, and she didn’t want the smell of rotting groceries.

In the forest, trees grow, leaves fall and compost, fertilizing the ground, and help more trees grow. A commercial composter does the same thing, only without the trees.

Photo by Phil Of Photos

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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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