I was recently asked whether it’s better to burn a pile of brush or compost it. My research suggests that composting is far better. Burning produces CO2 directly while composting releases methane (which is actually a more dangerous greenhouse gas) but in much smaller doses. The research suggests that a pound of compost would emit enough methane to make the equivalent of a quarter-pound of carbon dioxide. That’s a lot less than the pound and a half of CO2 that would be emitted by burning it. Composting also slows down the rate of release. Instead of an hour or two, whatever your pile releases will take months or years (depending on how small the pieces are when you start). Woodsmoke, of course, also contains lots of other delightful things to damage the lungs and the environment, which is why EPA has issued some strong guidelines for best burn practices. (see https://www.epa.gov/burnwise)

In Brunswick, we have, for many years now, collected the brush at the Graham Road facility. It is then chipped, and the company that chips it takes it away. That company uses it for their own projects and then sells off any extra.

Chipping it means smaller pieces, that will decay much faster than a pile just left in the woods, but is still much better for the environment than burning the pile. In fact, when the wood composts, it releases only what carbon it has been sequestering while it was alive, so is actually considered carbon neutral by many agencies.

You can also rent a chipper, chip up the pile yourself, and use the chips for mulch. That might not be any more real work than hauling the pile off, it will be a lot safer than burning it, and it will do all the stuff for which we otherwise pay for mulch.

The materials put into the leaf drop are not processed locally, but are transported as is to a couple of local farms, where they use it for composting.

Isn’t wood recyclable?

Wood items of any type are not recyclable under our curbside program, including the small wood crates containing clementine oranges sold at the supermarkets. Small items may be put in your trash and wood items are accepted for recycling at the landfill (there is a disposal charge for items that are not brush).

What metal can be recycled?

Only metal cans are recyclable under our curbside program. If you have other metal items (appliances, car parts, curtain rods, metal lawn chairs, etc.) they can only be recycled at the landfill (there may be a disposal charge, and you will also need a landfill permit, which currently costs $5 a year).

Aluminum cans can be recycled, but if they are returnable, we need to take them to a redemption center.

The Recycle Bin is a weekly column on what to recycle, what not to recycle, and why, in Brunswick. The public is encouraged to submit questions by email to [email protected]. Harry Hopcroft is a member of the Brunswick Recycling and Sustainability Committee.

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