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Hey!Don't Throw that Out!

James Edwards, an ARS soil scientist, Graphic for recycling sign. was a recycling machine. His specialty was using different combinations of newspapers, telephone books, yard waste, chicken litter (poop), and other kinds of paper and waste materials to grow crops. This type of recycling is called composting.

Dr. Edwards, deceased, worked at ARS’ National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, Alabama. Shortly before Dr. Edward's passing, Dr. Watts went to Alabama to check out the soil scientist's composting projects and quiz him on this subject.

Dr. Watts: How do you compost newspapers and phone books?

Dr. Edwards:We mix the paper with chicken litter, Photo showing wallboard waste in front of a new home that is being built.waste from local cotton gins, and refuse such as wallboards (seen in this picture). We had the phone books shredded and plowed into the soil, so we could use it to grow corn, soybeans, and cotton.

Dr. Watts:Why use all this different stuff?

Dr. Edwards:This shows people how many things can be composted. No matter where you live, you can find something. We used mixed solid wastes from farms, cities, and small towns.

Dr. Watts: Why recycle? Or compost?

Dr. Edwards: Most of the trash is taken to Animiated graphic of a spinning globe.landfills and sometimes property owners have to pay to take their trash to landfills. In some states it costs $17 a ton. Landfills are closing in some states because of strict and costly environmental regulations.

Here’s a quick question for you. How much paper do Americans throw away each day?

Bullet item.1 pound

Bullet item.3.0 pounds

Bullet item. Most people don’t recycle

Graphic of an expanding and contracting trashcan.Trash or Treasure

So, before you throw out the trash, see what you can recycle. Some companies even pay for phone books, newspapers and aluminum. Does your school have a recycling program? If not, why don’t you and some classmates talk to your teacher about starting one?

Photo of two men standing in front of stacks of paper for recycling.“Yesterday’s newspaper or even last year’s telephone directories could turn up again,” Edwards said. He worked with manufacturers and others to process newspapers, phone books, and other types of waste paper into a shredded product or pellets.

Gardeners can spread the paper by hand or mix it in the soil. Here are some ways it can be used:

Photo of pellets from recycled material.A) Medium pellets developed as testing material.
B) Small pellets for landscape mulch.
C) Large pellets for erosion control.
D) Small pellets with pigment added for more attractive landscape mulch.

Graphic of an ear of corn.Does this stuff work? Edwards tested shredded newspaper and telephone books on corn, soybeans, cotton, tomatoes, collards, and other vegetables. Guess what happened when he mixed in compacted soil? The paper loosened the soil and improved yields of corn soybeans and cotton.

It’s good for chickens, too. Animated graphic of a pecking chicen.The paper pellets form a soft bedding that is easier on baby chick’s bodies and feet than aged sawdust or other stuff typically used in poultry houses. Farmers said they like the bedding better and that it does a better job of absorbing urine and ammonia fumes. “These pellets fluff up when they get wet and absorb 4 to 5 times their weight in water,” Edwards said.

More Recycle Info...

ARS’ Beltsville Agricultural Research Center built a 2-acre, 77,000 square-foot composting center. It mainly handles manure and other wastes such as potting soil and plants. They have an area set aside for research to find out which blends of materials make the best compost. The compost material will be used for other ARS projects.

—By Tara Weaver-Missick, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

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