Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Litter Stinks

As I mentioned before, the compost I used for my new garden bed is produced by the city of College Park. Every fall the city sends a great big leaf vacuum up and down the streets of CP to suck up piles and piles of leaves from the curbs, where city residents are instructed to leave them. Occasionally the leaf piles spill out into the street, and the vacuum operators do their best to get all of those, too. They take this material, along with all the bagged yard waste and lawn clippings they collect all year, and pile it in long rows about 6 ft high by 16 ft long. (It so happens that these piles are located on the other side of a stand of trees at the end of my block.)

Periodically the city workers drive a huge machine through the pile that chops and shreds everything, mixing it and incorporating the all-important oxygen. They can tell when it needs to be mixed again because they monitor the temperature of the pile, and (according to Stacy, the very helpful city employee in charge of distributing the compost) the gases that it gives off. This is also how they know when it is done.

Once the compost is finished breaking down and ready for distribution, they bring in yet another large machine to screen out any pieces greater than 1/2 inch in size. For this last step they charge about $19 per cubic yard. Or, if you're cheap like me, city residents can get up to 5 cubic yards of unscreened compost per year for free, while supplies last. (I called in January to find out when this year's pile would be done and Stacy offered to call and let me know! And then she did!)

Now, I know you've long since guessed what the picture at the beginning of this post is. It's litter that I pulled out of the compost that went in my garden. Much of it is bits of plastic grocery bag (rendered horribly small and well-incorporated by the shredder/mixer). There are also a lot of soda bottles and bottle caps, and some really random things: glove bits, mechanical wiring, shoe heels, wiffle balls, plastic mesh, etc. Sadly, this is just the big, obvious stuff. For the first couple weeks after I put the compost in I continued to find more trash in it, especially after a rain.

It is gross picking trash out of my garden, and I'm bothered by all the little bits that I'm sure get away from me and blow away to start their second life as litter. I'm really glad that cities here in the tree-covered northeast have municipal composting operations. I just wish they had tidier citizens.

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