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 (
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 ( 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, 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 (, 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

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,
Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email


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