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What's in your city's green waste compost?

City compost bin for compost and yard scraps.


What's in your city's green waste compost?

The nearest big city to me is Los Angeles. L.A. picks up 1,700 tons of green waste from over 750,000 households every week. That’s a lot of green waste! The problem is there’s also a lot of other stuff mixed into those green bins that’s NOT supposed to be there.

L.A. puts it right there in bold lettering what can go in the bin and what cannot. They list that yard trimmings, grass clippings, non-partially consumed fruits and veggies and leaves and branches are all bueno for the bin. So far so good, right? WRONG.

They list the yard trimmings and food items as organic. By whose definition?… NOT mine.

They put this on the bins as well: DO NOT RECYCLE THESE ITEMS IN THE GREEN BIN - meat, fish, or eggs, partially eaten fruits & vegetables, painted wood products (wood with more than 25% paint should not be included in the bin). Thanks for that clarification!

Non-Organic material - (including curbside recyclables, refuse, electrical cords, cloth/fabric, appliances, mini blinds, kitchen utensils, lawn furniture, garden hoses, rubber tires and construction materials, including asphalt and concrete). These are clearly NOT green waste items, right??? Well, maybe NOT garden hoses and lawn furniture. After all they did come from the yard, right?

… And Finally, household hazardous waste materials (including electronics, syringes, all partially filled aerosol cans and containers for cleaning fluids, automotive fluids, all batteries (including car batteries, household batteries, rechargeable batteries), pesticides, oil based paint, garden chemicals, and pool cleaners). I must admit my two favorites here are syringes and pool cleaners!

Trash and plastic in green waste compost city bin.

This all makes sense, right? It’s all well thought out and labeled on the cans. Well then why is there so much trash, batteries, dog poop, lawn furniture, needles, car parts, weapons and baby diapers in the green bin? I love green waste compost...NOT!

Organic Defined

I’m going to quit kidding around with the green stuff for a minute, because as guys who make farm-made organic compost, this whole green waste compost deal gets dicey for us when they start using the word "organic". Take yard trimmings for example. The city states that organic materials from your yard may be composted. Well, what makes them organic? Organic is defined as relating to or derived from living matter. In that sense of the matter, then those things in your yard are organic. They were alive, now they’re dead. Voila… organic! But for those of us who are worried about organic as in food, clothing, soil, and health… those clippings or trimmings from your yard may or may not be.

We all have a “Mr. Wilson” in our neighborhood who buys RoundUp every time it’s on sale at Home Depot. He buys the big size… the economy size. He sprays everything that looks like a weed, acts like a weed or smells like a weed. While he’s at it, he likes himself a little pesticide too because the only thing that “Mr. Wilson” hates more than weeds is bugs. He brings his purchases home from the Depot and goes to town in a killing and spraying rampage. The weeds die. The bugs die. Then what does “Mr. Wilson” do? He collects all of those killings and places them guess where… the green bin!

Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson gardening comic showing Mr. Wilson spraying pesticides on his plants.

There are millions of “Mr. Wilson's” all over America. The other and maybe even scarier thing for us organic farmers is how they describe the fruit and veggies that can go into the green bin as organic. Organic as from the organic section at Whole Foods or back to our carbon-based definition of organic. That “organic” food that they say is okay to drop in the bin is most likely not organic by the Whole Foods organic shoppers definition of organic. The green waste going in people’s green bins is generally conventional AG waste that has been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, which is NOT too organic in my book. I mean, nothing says organic tomatoes to me like a little pesticide, herbicide and fungicide.

When and When NOT to use Green Waste Compost

Here are some suggestions that I have when using green waste compost or even thinking about using green waste compost:

1.) NEVER use in a food garden, community garden or school garden!

2. ) NEVER use in a garden where children are present.

3.) NEVER use in an environmentally sensitive area where the runoff from the green waste compost could damage wildlife or the soil in their habitat.

4.) Feel free to use as much green waste compost as possible along freeways, railroad lines, international airports, maximum security prisons, waste management facilities and at any of the areas surrounding launching pads for flights to Mars.

They give green waste compost away for free and with good reason. Some soil companies out there even take advantage of that freebie as well and add it to their soil mixes, and some of those are even labeled as organic, but that’s another issue for another blog.

So, if you see a product at a nursery or Big Box store that claims green waste compost on its label, step away from the bag and move on. It’s no bueno, and it’s definitely NOT organic.

Whenever I think of the free green waste compost that a city is always desperately trying to get rid of, I’m reminded of something that my grandma used to say… “you always get what you pay for.”

© Randy Ritchie 2019


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