Wednesday, June 07, 2006

To Burn Or Not To Burn

It was World Environment Day a few days back and I think it is the right time for me to write about this topic which I promised sometime back. How should we dispose our garden waste responsibly?

World Environment Day

My house has a relatively large garden with lots of plants, so you can imagine the amount of dead leaves, grass, branches and all my lawn can produce after a short while. Many, many, many years ago, we just burned them all at a corner which produced very fertile soil for our gardening needs (apart from the smog it also created during the burning process :P) but since the advent of the yearly haze problem graciously gifted by our neighbours Indonesia, we have stopped open burning. Instead, we put them all in plastic bags and dispose them off with our other organic waste. More often than not, it would take up to three or more of those large black plastic bags to fill up the leaves and all!

My neighbours however have not followed suit and continue to burn them in the open, causing much uncomfortness (is that a word?) to our eyes and lungs. Let's not forget the contribution of dust and smoke particles to the air which causes haze and pose a hazard to our health. How about greenhouse emissions? I believe there's also a ban on open burning in place which warrants a fine if caught. On the flip-side, we have the plastic bags in which the garden waste is stored for disposal. These plastic bags will end up at landfills and aren't biodegradable. Plastic takes up a very long time to degrade, too long in fact. So, the supposedly environmentally-friendly solution to open burning doesn't seem to be that environmentally-friendly anymore!

Penang Haze August 2005
The Penang haze of August 2005

Of course we could dig a hole in our garden and bury all the garden waste since they are easily biodegradeable but how many people will want to spoil their beautiful and expensive gardens by digging a huge hole to bury their garden waste? The compost option seems to be the best available one at the moment but has it taken off here? I am willing to forgo the black plastic bags but when the Penang Municipal Council workers come to collect the garden waste which aren't put in plastic bags or tied up properly (in the case of branches etc.), they will make a big fuss about it, might not even bother to collect the garden waste, scold or curse you if you're unlucky and sometimes even demand for payment (which goes straight to their pockets)! When they collect the garden waste in black plastic bags, will they sort and dispose the plastic bags properly, and compost the garden waste or will they just dump everything at the landfill and be done with it? I'm not quite sure about the Penang Municipal Council's stand on this issue.

Of course there is the gunny sack option but it is very hard to find one these days since they have been replaced by their more durable plastic counterparts. Furthermore, even if you are successful in finding one, it will cost you a bomb and seriously put you off. I doubt you've seen a gunny sack race in recent years, have you? I seriously want to do my part in helping to save the environment but is that avenue open for me?

[SOURCE: University of Oregon]

I guess it all boils down to choosing the lesser of two evils since the composting idea has not exactly taken off yet. On one hand, you are putting your health at risk and damaging the environment now with open burning. On the other hand, you are putting the environment and your health at risk in the future when you dispose your garden waste in plastic bags. I'm definitely not keen on open burning and probably will stick to the plastic bag option but I will give composting a try. In my case, it might not be practical considering the garden waste my lawn produces is considerably a lot but who knows it might turn out great. If viable I might even consider collecting garden waste from my neighbours (maybe for a nominal fee for my effort) and consider selling off the compost as fertilizer. ;)

So which option will you choose? To burn or not to burn? That is the question.

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