Lileks: Composting and other mounting expectations of modern life

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2012 - 7:34 PM

The freakish warm weather has gardeners crouched in the back yard like runners in the starting blocks, waiting for the gun. We're not supposed to rake yet. It seems too early to plant, because we could get 3 feet of snow in late April. But you want to do something, right?

Well, at our house a wretched sodden mass smothered the hosta beds, making one wonder if the new shoots could push their way through. It's like expecting a newborn to lift a manhole cover. Better get those leaves out now.

My wife asked if we had to use compostable bags, and I said I thought the requirement would be laid down sometime in the future -- at least that's what I'd read in the past. But what if the future is now? she asked.

Well, then it's the present, I said, irked. Women. All right, I'll Google it.

The first hit on Minneapolis compostable bags was a page called Compostable Bag Requirements in the Twin Cities Metro on rethinkrecycling.com.

"City of Minneapolis residents are not required to use compostable bags until January 1, 2013," it said. Checked the calendar. I think we're good.

So she filled 11 bags.

You know where this is going, of course. And it's not "the incinerator." Turns out that the city pushed up its compostable bag requirements an entire year, just like that.

A little warning would have been nice, don't you think? Besides the mailer that had CHANGES TO YOUR TRASH COLLECTION printed on the outside, I mean. Once I fished it out of the trash -- sorry, the recycling, yes, the recycling -- I realized we had indeed been given notice. But who reads those things?

I know, I know. It is the duty of every citizen to be informed, and that means when you get a mass mailing from the city about changes to trash regulations, you should get a pencil, take a seat, read it carefully, underline key points, commit it to memory and bring it up in those over-the-fence conversations with your neighbors. Say, Jack, have you heard about those important new changes to our trash collection? Then he looks at you like this is one of those ads radio stations run when they can't sell airtime, and you'll conclude with a pitch for the National Guard.

We just get too much junk -- that's the problem. Nothing important comes in the mail anymore. You want my attention, City of Minneapolis, jazz it up a little.

"UTILITY SHUTOFF NOTICE" works. Or "URGENT: METEOR IMPACT PREPARATION CHECKLIST." Use the bad-weather sirens to get my attention, then have a pre-recorded voice announce the changes. Send some trucks around with a PA system, maybe. NOW HEAR THIS. NOW HEAR THIS. COMPOST- ABLE BAGS NOW MANDATORY. THEY COST MORE, BUT YOU CAN ALWAYS CANCEL CABLE, YOU KNOW.

While we're at it, let's look at the bags. You can't use any old bag. It has to be an ASTM D6400. You're slapping your forehead: what, the ASTM D6399's aren't good? I bought a hundred! No.

ASTM means "American Society for Testing and Measurement," and they set the standards. ASTM D6400 is a specific set of criteria, not to be confused with ASTM E2187, which is a Standard Test Method for Measuring the Ignition Strength of Cigarettes, or ASTM T9000, which measures the smallest possible amount of detectable sympathy anyone can have for columnists who don't read letters from the city.

Then there's the cost. A box of the old black reliables: five bucks. A box of compostables: five bucks. The difference is that the former has 520 bags and the latter has three. More or less. It's cheaper to put the leaves into biogradable envelopes and mail them to the city first-class.

We go through a lot of bags, because we have old ornery trees that spit sticks on the lawn every time a breeze comes up or a squirrel sneezes, and those things poke through the compostable bags like hatpins in a balloon. For us the cheapest thing to do is drive to a place that takes organic waste -- preferably on a broiling hot day -- pay them, dump the stuff in the massive Mountain of Stink, then take the old black bags home for another use.

As for the dozens of bags no longer street-legal, we'll use them for household garbage -- which means at least two months of the garbageman looking askance at my trash. He went from white to black. He's trying to slip leaves past us. I know it.

No, I wouldn't. That's wrong. I think it's wrong, anyway. Was there a mailer about that?

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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