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County cashes in on yard waste

July 30, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - The end of the line for many tree limbs, leaves and other lawn debris comes in the form of two large piles, each about 20 feet tall, at the Washington County's rubble landfill.

But it also is a beginning.

Like many communities wishing to save both landfill space and money, the county began recycling lawn waste into shredded brown mulch two years ago. This year it went a step further, selling the material for $12 a ton.

"We're providing a valuable material and I feel we're obligated to recoup at least some of our expenses," said county Recycling Coordinator Harvey Hoch.

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The result, which is covering area flower beds, gardens and landscaped areas, has brought $14,107 to the county so far, Hoch said. The county, which also uses some of the mulch on its own property, processed 1,180 tons this year.

Hoch said there's much more potential. Near the two mulch mountains, a pile of grass clippings and other lawn wastes broil beneath the hot summer sun, decomposing into what he calls the landfill's "hidden gold."

"It looks like yuck, right?" Hoch said.

The county sells this dark compost-like material - a finer mix of organic materials than mulch - but Hoch fretted that proper equipment is needed to filter and shred the clumpy material, and improve its quality as a soil "enhancer" for growing plants and vegetables.

"We haven't found the magic piece of equipment for what we are doing on this site," he said.

Hoch said the county soon will test some equipment, which he hopes will cost no more than $80,000.

At the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Solid Waste Authority's transfer station in Leetown, 3,990 tons of mulch have been processed since it began the service in 1994, said spokeswoman Bev Grove.

Grove said she, too, would like to expand into making compost. She has applied for a grant that would pay for, among other things, $47,000 worth of equipment that would turn yard waste into a fine, moist compost.

Grove said the popularity of the mulching is twofold: people can buy relatively inexpensive mulch - which sells for $5 for a scoop from a backhoe - while knowing they ultimately are helping the environment by reducing waste that otherwise would be dumped in a landfill.

"There are so many people interested in seeing the watershed clean, and that's why they keep bringing it here," she said.

The desire to save landfill space is a chief reason why a compost center is planned in Greene Township, Pa., said Franklin County Environmental Planner Bob Meredith. The county does not have any existing formal compost or mulch centers, he said.

In Washington County, grass clippings and other lawn debris have been banned from being tossed out with regular trash since 1995. The clippings either must be included in special curbside pickup available in the city of Hagerstown or taken directly to the rubble landfill.

Hoch said the ban has prompted complaints among those that say dumping grass in the landfill would do no harm because "it just rots and goes away."

"That's not true. Nothing rots and goes away quickly in a landfill," he said.

For that reason, the county encourages people not to take grass clippings to the landfill for mulching or composting, but to leave them on their lawns instead.

Hoch said the nearly 5,000 cubic yards of mulch processed by the county this year has saved at least that much landfill space because the material shrinks as it cures for months beneath the sun. And the savings could be even more, he said.

"What we have to do is become more efficient with what we're doing," he said.

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