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Trash to treasure: recycling waste paper.

Jim Edwards, a soil scientist with ARS in Auburn, Alabama, is working with manufacturers of pelletizing equipment and others to process newspapers, phone books, and other types of water paper. The small, 3/8-inch-diameter pellets could be spread on fields by machines that currently dispense fertilizer.

Edwards is also exploring the possibility that some inks may have pesticidal qualities because the shredded newspapers seem to inhibit fungal diseases, as well as weeds such as crabgrass.

With a $20,000-a-year grant from Auburn University for a 2-year recycling project, Edwards gets waste copies of the local newspaper in Auburn, while his telephone books were collected in a special curbside project in his county.

After shredding, the phone books were plowed into the soil this past spring to grow corn, soybeans, and cotton. Newspapers were mixed with chicken litter, and waste from urban yards and local cotton gins was recycled as part of Edwards' co-composting of mixed solid wastes form farm and town or city.

Edward says that one problem with paper is that is carbon-nitrogen ratio of 150: 1 isn't even close to the 30: 1 ratio desired for composting. So in the long run, he envisions pelletizing paper along with another waste product high in nitrogen, such as manure, food waste, or yard waste.

He initially began his research with the idea of loosening soil so cotton roots could penetrate deeper. In his part of Alabama, a compacted layer of soil often keeps roots from penetrating more than 6 inches. Disking paper pellets into the earth would separate soil particles and help reduce this compaction.

But in the sands of West Texas, cotton roots don't meet resistance.

"We don't have any particular soil problem growing cotton, other than lack of water," says Jimmy Apel, USDA Soil Conservation Service coordinator of the Big Country Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Area, Inc., in Sweet-water, Texas.

The Texas panhandle is a land of cotton, cattle, and oil - in the heart of what was once the Dust Bowl. In addition to establishing job opportunities, Apel says the 12-county Big Country RC&D Council has three priorities: reducing erosion, improving water quality, and recycling waste materials. "Recycling paper pellets hits all three."

Apel explains that large pellets - 2 to 4 inches long with a 3/4 - inch diameter - hold down the highly erodible soil and break the wind's impact. "We expect to have less soil blowing away when it's dry and less sediment carried in the streams when it rains."

He is counting on paper pellets to control erosion on more than a million acres of farmland in this area.

The pellets have other advantages over shredded paper: The compacted paper takes longer to decompose and is easier to transport, allowing more pounds of newspaper per truckload.

Apel sees a future for the pellets nationwide, with cities buying portable equipment to grind paper and extrude it as pellets. He says the alternatives for waste paper disposal in his area are either burying it is the landfill or paying someone to haul it long distance to paper recycling plants on the Gulf Coast.

We've Got to Get the Lead Out

Edwards is cooperating in the Big Country RC&D's paper pellet project. He is analyzing the area's waste paper to see it lead or other heavy metals are present in the inks in amounts that would be harmful to the environment. He says that printers are gradually eliminating such heavy metals, but he has to check to be sure that certain locally produced materials aren't the exception to the rule.

To analyze for levels of toxins and nutrients in paper waste from homes, Edwards has volunteers in various states collect and send in samples of waste paper. For example, a family in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, saved all their waste paper - computer paper, cereal boxes, newspapers, junk mail, frozen food packages, etc. - for a month and shipped it to him.

The highest lead level found in the North Dakota paper waste was in the frozen food packages and other food container carboard, Edwards says.

"There's no risk to consumers of those foods because the lead is |locked' into the packaging; the potential risk comes when the packaging is shredded and mixed into soil. However, it's likely that the risk will be brought down to an acceptable level when the packaging's lead content is averaged by mixing it with other waste paper and carboard that has little or no lead."

Curbing Wind Erosion

ARS scientist Donald Fryrear wants to determine if leachates - materials dissolved out by action of percolating liquid - from the paper will bond sand particles so that erosion will be controlled for a long time.

He says, "Using paper pellets to control wind erosion could significantly affect sandy soils in many parts of the United States."

Fryrear, a dust storm expert based at Big Spring, Texas, is working with Edwards. Fryrear will do wind tunnel tests to get preliminary estimates of how many pellets will be needed per acre to control wind erosion. He will also provide space for field tests if the paper passes toxicity tests.

To control wind erosion in this area, farmers normally have to plant winter cover crops and leave crop residue on the surface.

But the problem with cover crops in West Texas is that rainfall is so scarce - 18 inches or less a year - that farmers can't afford to give any soil moisture to cover crops. If they do, the cotton crop suffers the next year. So paper pellets could take the place of the cover crops and crop residue, reducing both soil erosion and evaporation of soil moisture.

Apels say that after the toxicity and wind tunnel tests are done, test plots will be established with funds from a $6,500 grand awarded to the Big Country RC&D Area.

Next, information gathered from the test plots will be used to set up a larger field demonstation. Apel says he will start with 1-acre sites and expand to 40- to 100-acre fields. "Then, we will meet with farmers and interested organizations to show them how to use recycled paper pellets."

Edwards is also assisting in a similar project in North Dakota - a land of wheat, wheat, and more wheat.

The Northern Plains RC&D Area in Devil's Lake has wind erosion problems similar to those of west Texas and the same low rainfall of 18 inches or less a year.

Keith C. Van De Velde, coordinator of the Northern Plains RC&D Area, says that he is interested in the paper pellets mainly for wind erosion control and recycling. All the landfills in his six-county are will be closed this year.

The area has only 45,000 people and no matter how much paper they read or write on, Van De Velde realizes they will not generate enough waste paper to cover more than 4,000 acres of the area's 4 million acres of wheat fields with 5 tons of paper per acre each year.

"The plus side of this is that, unlike urban areas, we can recycle all of the waste paper from these six countries without fear of producing unwanted pellets and make no trips to the landfill," Van De Velde notes.

He has a $23,000 EPA grant, plus an additional $2,000 from the Regional Planning Council for the RC&D. He plans to apply the paper pellets to eight 1-acre demonstration sites throughout his area and lead farmers on tours of the sites. Van De Velde expects to get both weed suppression and moisture retention benefits.

"The pellets absorb water like thousands of sponges, preventing water evaporation while allowing plant roots access," he says.

Jerry Allen, the North Dakota project officer at the Region VIII EPA office in Denver, Colorado, says that pelletizing paper for land application is new in his area. He says that Van De Velde had the paper pellets made at a plant that normally pelletizes feed for livestock. "He didn't have to use any new technology or techniques."

Allen says that projects such as these are models for ways to divert vast quantities of material away from local landfills, extending their period of usefulness and reducing the costs involved in transporting material to regional landfills.

"The potential exists for finding good uses for waste paper across the country, with the help of data collected from small projects like this one," he says.

Urban/Farm Interface Can Help

ARS scientists are also working with Rodale Institute Reseach Center scientists in Kutztwon, Pennsylvania, on developing similar recycling cooperation between farms and towns. ARS microbiologist Donald D. Kaufaman, stationed at Rodale, advocates this approach.

"Instead of trying to find scarce municipal land for more landfills or composting sites," Kaufman suggests, "why not preserve nearby farmlad for on-farm composting of safe waste?"

Kaufman is on assignment at Rodale 4 days each week from the ARS Soil Microbial Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. He serves as a research coordinator at the Rodale Insitute, which is a private, nonprofit organization advocating organic farming and other alternative agricultural techniques.

Kaufman says that composted paper and yard waste improve the soil condition by adding carbon and loosening soil particles. The carbon feeds and increases the numbers of beneficial bacteria.

Kaufman says he and others at Rodale are researching the feasibility of producing salable composts from mixes of farm and urban wastes.

ARS scientists at Rodale are incorporating just about everything into compost piles, including paper dinner plates from the Rodale Press' employee cafeteria and biodegradable forks, knives, and spoons made from an experimental starch-based plastic substitute. The plates and utensils are mixed with leaves. Other starch-based plastic materials in the compost heap include votive candle cups and golf tees.

Newspapers are being tested, too, but only after being used as bedding in dairy barns. Leaves are composted with the used bedding, as well as with poultry litter.

The scientists have grown spinach and oats on the various composts and are currently trying corn and pepers.

Kaufman will give composted wastes a new twist: adding microbes that aid in preventing plant disease and promoting plant growth. ARS scientists and others have been identifying and genetically engineering microbes to replace chemical pesticides and growth regulators, but they've always had the problem of find a practical way for farmers to apply the microbes to their crops.

Now Kaufman and microbiologist Patricia D. Millner, head of the Soil Microbial Systems lab, have the idea of piggy-backing them in compost. "It might be a ready-made medium that can support the microbes and carry them to the fields or nurseries," Kaufman says.

This fall, Kaufman and the Rodale scientists began evaluating the chemical and biological componetns of liquid leached from compost piles to determine if there are any environmetnal hazards.

The Soil Microbial Systems lab, formerly called the Biological Waste Management Laboratory, is internationally known for its development of the Beltsville Aerated Pile Method, in which sewage sludge is composted with wood chips. This method is now used by more than 150 cities in the United States.

James F. Parr, who is ARS' national program leader for dryland agriculture and soil fertility research, says "the main advantage of the Beltsville Aerated Pile Method is producing a safe stable, humuslike material that can be easily handled, stored, transported, and applied. Composted materials serve primarily as soil conditioners because they release nitrogen and phosphorus so slowly."

The Beltsville scientists have conducted research showing that sewage sludge can be used to produce beneficial and safe composts, provided it has a low content of heavy metals. Such good-quality composts can be used in potting media and to grow any crop, including vegetables. They can also be used on turfgrass farms and in the reclamation of marginal or degraded lands.

Composting research will soon return to Beltsville in the form of mixed waste co-composting. Waste research plots will be established to demonstrate safe ways of recycling urban, industrial, and rural wastes. The plots are part of a broad-scale sustainable agriculture project, according to Donald Bills, who chairs the project's coordinating committee at Beltsvbille. - By Don Comis, ARS.

Jim Edwards is at the USDA-ARS National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, P.O. Box 3439, Auburn, AL 36831-3439; phone (205) 844-3979, fax (205) 844-3945.

Donald W. Fryrear is in the USDA-ARS Conservation and Production Research Unit, P.O. Box 909, Big Spring, TX 79721; phone (915) 263-0293, fax (915) 263-3154.

Don Kaufman is at the Rodale Institute Research Center, 611 Siegfriedale Road, Kuztown, PA 19530; phone (215) 683-6383, fax (215) 683-8548.

Patricia D. Millner is at the USDA-ARS Soil-Microbial Systems Laboratory, Bldg, 318 10300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-2350; phone (301) 504-8163, fax (301) 504-8370.

James F. Parr is on the USDA-ARS National Programs Staff, Dryland Agriculture and Soil Fertility, Bldg. 005, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-2350; phone (301) 504-5281, fax (301) 504-6231.

Disappearing Landfills

Texas is like many other states in that some landfills are closing because of strict new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Proteciton Agency and state or local governments.

Some predict that only regional landfills with be able to afford the enormous construction costs of complying with groundwater protection regulations that went into effect on October 1, 1993. The new municipal solid waste rules may make the costs of operating a landfill prohibitive for many small communities.

"Two or three counties may want to consolidate their landfills into one regional landfill." suggests Jimmy Apel, coordinator of the Big Country Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc., in Sweetwater, Texas. He says landfills in the cities of Blackwell, Lorained, Merkel, Sweetwater, and Rotan were all to be closed by October 1.

"Once they're closed, people can't bring garbage or news papers to them, though they can still bring tree limbs," he says.

Some of the landfill sites will become transfer station where garbage and yard waste will be compacted and loaded onto 18-wheeler trucks for delivery to regional landfills. For example, Sweetwater will probable ship its waste 42 miles to Snyder, or 66 miles west to Big Spring.

Apel says that a landfill would need to serve 50,000 peopel in order to be economical. "Tipping or unloading fees are rising from $3 a ton to $8 to $15 a ton in the area," he says. While tipping fees for most landfills around the country are below $30, fees for some lanfills on the East Coast are fast exceeding $70, and for New York City they are now at $146 per ton.

"Another part of the new environmental laws is a mandatory reduction of solid waste disposal: 10% by 1995, 25% by 1997, and 40% by 2000," Apel adds. - Don Comis, ARS.
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Title Annotation:includes article on landfill disappearance
Author:Comis, Don
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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