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Prince George's County Approaches 'The Final Frontier Of Recycling'

Officials in Prince George's County are trying a new way to compost both yard and food waste. The county believes the change will not just save money, but make money too.

At the county yard waste composting facility in Upper Marlboro, tree, grass, and leaf trimmings are piled into long lines several football fields long. It resembles the shelves and aisles of a supermarket. That material is composted to make Leaf Gro, a soil conditioner and fertilizer.

In the middle of all those mountains of waste are three piles covered by green tarps. What's underneath is different from the rest, says Adam Ortiz, the director of Prince George's County's Department of Environmental Resources.

"We're mixing in food waste, which very few jurisdictions in the region or even in the country are doing," Ortiz says. "So we are able to create a higher grade compost product that's worth a lot more money."

In addition to the better compost, Ortiz says this program reduces the amount of food scraps that end up in landfills. Food waste accounts for close to 20 percent of all trash in Prince George's County.

The three piles in the middle of the facility are already a mix of yard and food. One steaming 55-ton pile is just a mass of black and brown, with pieces of wood and shredded plastic mixed in.

Scott Woods of Sustainable Generation, which is helping with the complicated process of composting both materials together, says county law will change soon to prevent the plastic from being there.

"They currently accept yard waste in plastic bags," he says. "Beginning next year they're going to ban the plastic."

And while that ban excites Woods, Ortiz says the reaction at recent public hearings has been far less enthusiastic.

The law will still go into effect Jan. 1.

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