Waste Not; Not Waste

There’s a drive I’ve taken so many times in the past 16 years that Sophia, my old but dependable pick-up truck, could almost drive herself there. Our destination is the county dump.

I can count on one hand (and have a couple fingers left over) the times I’ve hauled trash that I know is destined for the landfill. Instead, virtually every trip I take to the dump involves carrying a huge load of fallen tree limbs, sticks, prunings, grass clippings, leaves, and/or pulled weeds. Upon arrival, Sophia and I are directed to the “Yard Waste” area.

Yard Waste sign

Yard waste? Really?

The word “waste” originates from a word meaning “to leave, abandon, give out.” Later meanings include “empty, desolate, destruction, damage;” and “useless expenditure, refuse matter.” To waste something is to “squander, spoil, ruin, or consume uselessly.”  All of these indicate a de-valuing of that which is conscientiously delivered for re-purposing.

Sophia and I know better, or we wouldn’t have made all these trips over the years. And apparently the folks running the whole operation at the dump know differently, too. All of the yard “waste” is actually converted into mulch, and is made available for free to county residents. Many a time I have left the dump with the truck bed as full as when I entered, but this time with mulch. It’s a fantastic recycling process!

truckbed, CAT, mulch

So, what word might be more suitable then “waste?” “Debris” comes from the French word meaning “to break down,” and that’s certainly descriptive of the mulching process. How about “refuse,” the term the county uses to define what’s in the trashcan I put at the end of the drive way for weekly pick-up? The earliest meaning of “refuse” is literally to “pour back, flow back.” Both of these terms are more accurate and frankly more flattering than “waste,” and I would support either of these word substitutions.

There’s a huge nursery near my home that has mountains of compost right next to its greenhouses and marketplace. These particular giant mounds are generated from the fallen, raked, and suctioned leaves from last fall and several fall seasons before that, in the Glen Allen area where I live.  “Compost” literally means “to place together,” and certainly that describes this process of massive leaf collection and accumulation. The nursery employees and patrons fondly and wisely call this compost “Glen Allen Gold.”

Call it “debris” or “refuse” or “gold” or any other term that indicates its true value in the cycle and recycle of life and death. Just don’t call it “waste.”

(Reference for word origins and meanings: www.etymonline.com)





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