“Help! Garbage Needed!”
By “Awake!” correspondent in West Germany
TOO little garbage at a time when mankind is threatened by a garbage avalanche? At present the mountain of garbage in Germany is estimated to contain about 262 million cubic yards. With this amount an area of about 770 square miles could be covered with a layer four inches deep.
The garbage problem is international. England and France have already formed departments for the preservation of the environment. Former American Senator Joseph Tydings of Maryland expressed the opinion that $4,000,000,000 should be set aside for garbage disposal over a five-year period.
How, then, is it possible that anyone could be sending out an SOS for garbage? Well, of course, most places are not desirous of more garbage; they have too much already. But there are localities where the message, in effect, is: “Help! Garbage needed!” Why? Of what value is garbage?
About thirty years ago the Netherlands government discovered its value for agriculture. The city commissioners of The Hague were planning an expensive project for the burning of garbage; however, the government induced them to give up their plan and to turn the garbage into compost instead. So valuable was this compost to agriculture that I. R. Teensma from Amsterdam said: “In the Netherlands the demand for garbage is so great, that only half can be supplied.”
The situation has been similar in other countries. In 1971, in Switzerland the demand for compost made from garbage was far above the supply, and in Germany the demand was so great that there were difficulties in obtaining enough compost for the Olympic grounds in Munich. Reports from Blaubeuren in the neighborhood of Ulm, where a compost factory is located, reflect the problem: “We haven’t enough garbage [in the vicinity] to satisfy our customers with garbage compost.”
For the disposal of garbage there are usually three methods: dumping, burning, and composting. The demand for garbage compost indicates that there are interesting possibilities for this type of disposal or, more correctly stated, this type of use. What is garbage compost and how is it manufactured?
The best example of the manufacture of compost whereby animal and plant matter is slowly decomposed, can be found in forests. Leaves, pine needles, dry wood, and so forth, fall to the ground. On the forest floor innumerable creatures, from earthworms to microorganisms, work to decompose this material. About 90 percent of the material passes through the digestive system of worms, thus being processed into a well-prepared compost that will then be further decomposed by other organisms. Bacteria and fungi take care of further decomposition of the “forest garbage,” the resulting humus enriching the soil. This natural process, of course, is too slow for garbage compost preparation.
What is needed to meet the demand is “express” composting. But how is it done? And how can good-smelling garden soil or even pig feed be made from refuse? Let’s take a closer look at the operation of a compost factory.
A Compost Factory
The incoming garbage truck dumps its contents into a shaft. A conveyor belt transports the garbage into a screen grater. This machine reduces glass, wood, plastic and paper into small pieces of about one to one and a half inches in diameter. Larger pieces such as tin cans remain in the screen. The material that has gone through the grater has all remaining pieces of metal removed by a magnet.
Next, the mixture comes into the kneading press. Here the garbage is pulverized into minute pieces. Also, sewage sludge is added. The rotting process, facilitated by the sewage, now takes place in high bins. The supply of oxygen and moisture is automatically regulated, creating ideal conditions for the microorganisms contained in the garbage. Carbon dioxide that develops is piped off. With this method there is no bad smell.
Since the sewage sludge is an especially dangerous reservoir of germs, what happens to these dangerous organisms in the composting process? The very first day in these large bins a temperature of 175° to 185° F. develops. This destroys disease germs. Those resisting heat are destroyed by other bacteria. Even the tough Bacillus anthracis is destroyed. The result is a purification of the dangerous sewage sludge.
What happens to the glass in the garbage? According to Dr. Spohn of Heidelberg, pulverized glass is also decomposed during the rotting process. It loses its sharp edges due to the activity of microorganisms. A folder from the compost factory in Blaubeuren says: “Pieces of glass and such things are not to be sorted out! They are part of the manufacturing process and are rendered completely harmless.”
After about two weeks of rotting, the resulting compost is taken out of the bins and stacked for about a month, for it to mature properly. The result is a mature compost with the original content of the garbage completely digested. It looks like good garden soil and is free from harmful bacteria.
Value to Plants and Pigs
Though garbage compost is not a fertilizer, it does revitalize the soil and improves its ability to retain air, moisture and warmth. When the soil retains more air the microbic life processes can be increased and maintained. With proper use, garbage compost can renew and maintain the health and productivity of the soil.
Good-tasting healthy vegetables grow in this soil, enriched with garbage compost. Plants are much more easily protected against diseases when grown in this soil. They are so healthy that they remain astonishingly parasite resistant without insecticides. For example, in experimental fields potato plants were hardly touched by potato bugs. Research showed that, as a rule, parasites attack only sick plants.
But what does garbage have to do with pig feed? In the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, compost made from garbage has been used for hog feed, especially for young pigs. In the Netherlands about 1,500 tons of compost were used for this purpose in 1966. Many countries are supplied compost for this purpose from the factory in Blaubeuren. This “pig dirt” is not a complete feed but an interesting supplement with valuable nutrients.
An analysis shows over forty different microorganisms that are intestinally valuable. Natural hormones, vitamins and enzymes not contained in the normal feeds nor in sour milk are also present. Reports from farmers show that a supplement of “pig dirt” for a period of four weeks makes regular iron shots and the use of antibiotics unnecessary, diarrhea is prevented, and it protects against worms.
Question As to Use
Instead of considering garbage and sewage sludge as annoying refuse, there are authorities that encourage saving it and using it as a source of raw material. Agriculture has long ago gone over to the machine age, so why not use machines to help convert garbage into a rich source of raw material?
The Netherlands sells annually nearly 200,000 tons of compost. Compost factories in other countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland have also been successful. Some operators of compost factories are of the opinion that more garbage could beneficially be turned into compost, especially for regenerating the soil.
Until now it has always seemed to be simplest and cheapest just to take the garbage to a dump. But the garbage avalanche is growing and the possibilities of dumping it are dwindling. In addition it presents dangers to our environment and ground water. Thus more and more localities are faced with the question, Will their garbage be simply annoying and even dangerous refuse, or will it be used to produce valuable products?