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EARTHWATCH : High Turnover : Composting green waste is the next step in household recycling to save landfill space.


You've already begun to recycle. Aluminum cans are money all of a sudden, and glass, plastic and paper are catching up. You like recycling. You feel virtuous.

What's next, then? Answer: the other half of your curbside trash--yard waste, or green waste. Back-yard composting plus citizen action to support county and city composting are part of the solution to the crisis surrounding the city-dump-is-going-to-overflow issue.

What? Who cares? First, it's a citizen's concern and second, a homeowner's. As a citizen, you should know that if your city or county composts your yard and tree trimmings, it can obviate the need for more landfill sites and higher civic expenditures for refuse waste disposal. Consider: About half of what we throw away in California (i.e. every other full trash can) is compostable. It costs $65 to dump a ton of waste and $35 a ton to process it as compost.

In a few weeks, the Ventura Regional Sanitation District will launch a pilot composting project in which Fillmore and Santa Paula, as well as selected fruit and vegetable processors, will bring 30 tons per week of compost waste to the Toland Road landfill during an experimental period of nine months. This means a pile of grass and tree trimmings big enough to cover Government Center won't become garbage. According to project coordinator Mark Capron, this volume is small compared to what they'd like to take out of the waste stream and what they need in the way of product.

"With our county mulch needs and gardeners picking up free loads, we'd be running out of product even if we composted all the green waste in the county."

In this respect Ventura is really fortunate to have desert soil, which cries out for compost. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Solid Wastes Management Assn., 13 Eastern states have such a surplus of green waste that they've mandated that cities stop putting it in landfills. Capron's colleague Kelly Polk says that's not indicated here.

To save water and build a recycling ethic, county officials are encouraging back-yard composters. I put my plastic bin in the front yard for the same reason my parents put up a new antenna when we first got a color TV. It's going to be the latest thing. As with any gizmo, there's the $19 version and the $149 version.

But it's the mix you put into it that counts.

The county mixes ingredients on an industrial scale, turning the layers of grass, leaves, tree shreddings and vegetable peelings with a Rototiller. Back-yard composters do it with a spade or composting tool. In the past, folks have simply piled and turned the ingredients every few months. Modern organic compounds enable us to achieve the same results in weeks in a special container. Local housewares stores are just now getting in yard waste recycling kits or will order them.

Your own composting operation probably won't consume all your yard waste. It's also not a destination for meat, fat scraps or doggie doo. We're talking strict vegetarianism here from beginning to end. The result is rich, sweet-smelling humus. Giving yard wastes to the refuse hauler is like throwing out expensive bags of fertilizer and peat moss. If you had a regular free supply, you'd be delighted. Well you do, if you compost.

THE DETAILS: In Ventura County: Sale of bins, organic inoculants and instruction books, brand-name Ringer Yard Guard and Soilsaver composters are available at Target, Ojai Valley Nursery, Oak View Builders' Mart, K mart and Builders Emporium and by mail order from Williams-Sonoma 415-421-4242. For information on county programs, call 805-658-4606.

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