By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Raking leaves is an autumn ritual in its beginning stages for this season.
Homeowners and others who bag them for collection could do Mother Earth and some hardworking farmers a favor by using paper instead of plastic, says Nick Shorr, of Pennsylvania Resources Council.
Paper composts. Plastic doesn’t. It’s as simple as that, he said.
Shorr works to set up regional composting and recycling initiatives with the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that has dealt with environmental issues for nearly 75 years.
Its “Please, don’t be a litterbug” slogan is familiar to all who have been seeing and reading it for decades.
PRC, founded in 1939, was involved in the roadside beautification programs of the 1960s. It began promoting recycling in the early 1970s and continues that work, Shorr said, in part by linking municipalities and waste haulers with farmers who compost leaves raked up by residents.
PRC seeks to keep yard waste out of landfills and make it as easy as possible for small farmers to turn it into natural fertilizer to rebuild soil.
Tri-County Industries, Pine Township, and other haulers collect bagged leaves that farmers in southern Mercer and northern Lawrence counties turn into fertilizer used in vegetable, hay and grain fields through a PRC initiative, Shorr said.
He approached the city managers of Sharon and Farrell to enlist them in the “paper, not plastic” effort and learned that he would have to appeal to homeowners and other leaf rakers directly.
“The city managers told me they can only recommend that people use paper bags instead of plastic,” Shorr said. “They can’t require the use of paper bags because they have no way to enforce any rule like that.”
Since plastic can’t be composted, the farmers have to tear open the bags, a time-consuming and gigantic chore for small operators who always have more work than time to do it. Residents’ use of paper bags would streamline the leaf disposal process, Shorr said.
Farmers would much prefer receiving leaves from haulers in paper bags that compost along with the leaves they contain, Shorr said.
“The 30-gallon craft paper bags are widely available and cost $1.88 for a 5-pack,” he said of the bags made of the same brown paper as grocery bags.
“The leaf bags are made of a sturdier paper. They can get wet a little and they don’t rip,” Shorr added.
PRC is involved in other programs to divert compostable materials from landfills.
“One of the keys is to keep disposal as cheap as possible and without needing a lot of fancy and expensive equipment,” he said. “We hope people want to be part of the effort helping the farmers who turn backyard leaves into fertile soil.”