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Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. The ultimate natural recycling process. Bury a body and after a while only the skeleton remains. What has happened to the rest?

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. The ultimate natural recycling process. Bury a body and after a while only the skeleton remains. What has happened to the rest? Well, the flesh served as a feast for a variety of bacteria, fungi, insects, mites and worms which use its components to build their own bodies and as a source of energy. What they don’t use, they poop out, enriching the soil with minerals and humic material, a mixture of carbon based compounds that helps hold water in the soil. Plant some daisies on top, and you have everything needed to push them up. Basically, what we are talking about is composting. The word itself comes from the Latin meaning “to put together.” Put together what? Materials that when decomposed provide a useful amendment to soil. Composting is part of the earth’s natural cycle of growth and decay.

It all begins when energy from the sun is used by plants to allow carbon dioxide from the air to combine with water in the process of photosynthesis to produce glucose. This is then used as the raw material that, with the help of minerals, is converted to the myriad compounds that make up plant matter. Animals eat the plants and use these compounds to build their own bodies. When plants and animals die, they return nutrients to the soil and carbon dioxide to the air, so the process can start over again. When compostable garbage ends up in a landfill we interfere with this process. Not only are we depriving the soil of nutrients, we are needlessly using up landfill space. Composting can be thought of as the farming of microorganisms. Plants and animals are replete with microbes that will begin to multiply when the plants or animals die, using the matter that housed them as nutrients. Under the right conditions, exposure to oxygen, moisture and the right blend of organic matter, composting eventually yields a dark earthy- smelling crumbly material that can be used in a number of beneficial ways. It can be used as fertilizer, as mulch, and as a soil builder. Soil that has had compost added is easier to work, releases nutrients to plants at an optimal rate, is less likely to pollute waterways with fertilizer run-off, and is better aerated because compost introduces various burrowing insects and worms. Preparing a compost pile in your back yard requires some know-how in terms of when it needs turning, what waste is appropriate to add and what is not. But you don’t have to be a home composter to take advantage of this recycling technology. You can become part of a program to provide industrial composters with the materials they need. And leave the know how to them. Many municipalities provide homes with bins to collect compostable materials, and contents are picked up every week and taken to a composting facility. It is a bit of a bother, but well worth it as far as the environment is concerned. Will Rogers almost got it right when during the great dust bowl he said, “they’re making more people every day, but they ain’t making any more dirt.” Actually, if you compost, you can make more dirt. But it may not be as much fun as making children.


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