Green Waste Solutions to Help Heal the Planet
by Virginia Hayes
Waste not, want not is a good axiom for all aspects of life. In the natural world, nothing goes to waste. Plants and animals live, grow, and die only to join the cycle of life, returning elements to their ecosystem to be “recycled” into new forms. As humans, we’ve cut into that cycle with almost all of our modern enterprises. We’ve been piling up our waste in artificial mountains, towing it out to sea on barges or incinerating it, just to get it out of the way. The light is slowly dawning that this is just not good for the environment and it’s high time we started cleaning up our act.
More than 40 percent of California’s garbage (the politically correct term is “waste stream”) is organic material that could be composted and returned to landscape. A significant portion of this green waste is from our own urban gardens and cityscapes. Curbside recycling is cutting into that total. Let this serve as a reminder that all your garden waste and vegetable kitchen scraps can be tossed into that bin for processing to make its way, as a composted product, back into the earth.
Yard waste is but one source of compostable materials, however. Just a few decades ago, orchard trimmings and other crop byproducts were routinely processed and returned to the farm. In these modern times, excess vegetation is trucked off the property and thrown away as unusable. Soil is left bare to facilitate harvesting machinery, and applications of chemical fertilizers and herbicides have become the norm instead of the last-resort treatments they used to be. In our county, where agriculture occupies such a large part of our economy, tons of recyclable organic waste has been “wasted” by sending it off to the landfill.
This is changing slowly; just as urban growers are beginning to climb onto the green-waste recycling bandwagon, farmers are investigating ways to contribute. Partly, this is in response to increased costs of disposing such artifacts. In the old days, farmers could, and would, just build a nice big bonfire with their orchard and vineyard prunings and get rid of them. Pollution is at an all-time high in agricultural centers of the state and there are fewer and fewer days when this is even an option. More importantly, farmers and urbanites alike are realizing that those methods just aren’t sustainable and change is needed.
It’s one thing for the creators of organic waste to want to do better, but most of us, gardeners and farmers, just don’t have the equipment or space to deal with this waste stream. Enter the commercial garbagemen and others with an idea of how to streamline the waste treatment process. These corporations also hope to profit by their work, but they are quite aware that they must be extremely forward-thinking, and even ahead of the game, to turn this green waste into gold. Locally, MarBorg Industries (marborg.com) has led the way in our community by making those curbside bins available to city dwellers as well as processing construction debris, like lumber waste from construction sites and demolitions. BFI/Allied Waste Services (alliedwaste.com) is following right behind. The city and county garbage processing facilities have managed to divert over 60 percent of all waste from the landfill; much of that is organic material. Other corporations have also found this particular market to their liking. One of those is Agromin (agromin.com).
Agromin, based in Camarillo, has for many years been a supplier of horticultural products. They sell everything from walk-on bark to custom soil-less mixes that area nurseries find indispensable in their operations. Most of these products were only available in bulk quantities, but now they are leading the pack in recycling organic waste and developing standardized and certified products suitable for garden as well as agricultural applications. They collect and process green waste from 19 municipalities in the South Coast area and are now packaging a range of goods for general consumption. These bagged soil amendments and potting mixes are created from recycled green waste that is tested and proven to be free of harmful chemicals or diseases. One of their other innovations is to form a partnership with one of the largest farming operations in the area. Limoneira (limoneira.com), founded in 1893, now grows lemons, oranges, avocados, and row crops on 4,000 acres. They have joined with Agromin and provided five acres of their land to process 120 tons of “clean, green material” daily that is then spread throughout their orchards and incorporated in their planting fields. Limoneira benefits by reduced chemical herbicide and fertilizer costs. The mulches that now blanket their plots smother weeds and recycle nitrogen into the soil without additional fertilizer applications. Here is a model for small- and large-scale operations to join together and not only make a profit for themselves, but benefit the overall health of the ecosystem.
In addition to agricultural green waste, the construction industry contributes a hefty chunk of wood products to the waste stream. Lumber trimmings, shipping pallets, and other wood products from construction and demolition products also used to go straight to the landfill. These products can now be diverted on site into separate bins for processing into materials such as mulch for use in landscaping. Huge tub grinders make short work of lumber products, reducing them to useful organic material ready to be sifted and composted or spread on the soil. In fact, it is the advent of all this sorting and diversion that makes such a wide variety of commercial products from recycled material possible. Keeping the tree trimmings from professional arborists separate from the grass clippings of the homeowner allows for fine control of the composting and finishing process. Agromin is just one of the pioneers in this field. Look for more companies to join the new flow of recycled green waste away from the dump and back into our gardens and farms, where it can benefit the earth and us all.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to email@example.com.