During the flooding of 2003, Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula visited a deluged Greentown apartment complex where he saw mounds of grass clippings dumped in a ditch.

But the traditional ways of getting rid of yard waste are no longer in vogue. Burning it can cause air pollution and fires, and isn't illegal in many areas. And, Regula said, throwing it out uses up valuable landfill space; Ohio estimates 10 percent to 15 percent of its residential trash is made up of grass clippings, tree limbs and leaves.

The idea that we're going to entomb this stuff in a landfill for 100 years just doesn't make any sense when it can easily be returned to the ecosystem, said Andrew Booker, a supervisor with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

There's the do-it-yourself approach: Lawn mowers that turn grass clippings into mulch that can provide nitrogen for the grass, and backyard composting bins that can provide good nutrients for gardens, Booker said.

When a tornado ripped through Jackson Township in 2002, Jackson set up a drop-off spot for tree debris and has kept it operating since then. North Canton has curbside leaf pickup during the fall.

With residents increasingly asking what to do with their yard waste, the Stark-Tuscarawas-Wayne Joint Solid Waste Management District set up 10 drop-off locations around Stark County in 2003, said Linda Morckel, the county's recycling coordinator. Fees collected from landfills fund the program.

This year, Jackson Township joined the program and the district expanded its drop-off sites to 15. Morckel estimates the sites will take in about 17,000 tons this year.

The landscaping supply company Earth'n Wood Products, which is in Jackson Township, charges the waste district $26.50 a ton to haul away the truckloads of branches, leaves and grass from all the sites. Some locations get so much waste, the trucks have to visit them twice a week. The material is then dumped onto a 750-foot long pile at Earth'n Wood's Strausser Street NW location to be ground into compost or mulch, said Chris Hattery, Earth'n Wood's sales manager.

To make compost, the waste is divided into rows and turned twice a week to cool it down. Bacteria create a chemical reaction that heats the rows, said Hattery, and after about two months, the waste becomes a black, nutrient-filled compost that can be used as fertilizer.

To make mulch, the ground-up yard waste is added to bark from logging companies, she said. It's ground again, and Earth'n Wood waits about 30 days for it to decompose and darken.

The company sells the mulch and compost for about $24 a cubic yard, but Hattery said that doesn't cover the costs of the $1.5 million grinding machine, $145,000 trucks, and fuel, labor and insurance.

The rate Earth'n Wood charges the waste district has dropped more than $4 a ton, from the $31 it charged two years ago. But the increasing popularity of the program has nearly doubled the cost to an estimated $472,000, Morkel said, and the waste district is considering consolidating Stark County's program with those of Wayne and Tuscarawas counties to try to save money.

But the cost could go higher if people mix other refuse in with the yard waste. Hattery said people have left dog house wood and garbage, which requires workers to take time to sort the waste. And a piece of metal in the waste caused about $20,000 in damage to a grinding machine, she said.

Plain Township Road Superintendent Joe Iacino said one resident last fall left behind bags of trash with a discarded phone bill in them, which sheriff's deputies used to track down the offender.

But not all businesses get the message. A year ago, an excavating company left about a dozen massive tree stumps at the Plain Township drop-off.

YARD WASTE STOP A truck dumps about 3 tons of yard waste from Perry Township at Earth'n Wood's Strausser Street NW property in Jackson Township. A pile of waste about 750 feet long awaits grinding, before it's made into mulch and compost. For $26.50 a ton, the landscaping supply company picks up the grass clippings, branches and leaves from 15 drop-off locations throughout Stark County.

MAKING MULCH Equipment at Earth'n Wood, a Jackson Township-based landscape supply company, processes ground-up yard waste into mulch at the business' Strausser Street NW property. The mulch in the pile to the right was made from leaves, grass, branches and other plant waste dropped off by residents to be recycled.

RECYCLING YARD WASTE Jim Baird of Jackson Township rakes yard waste out of the bed of a truck at hte Jackson Township yard waste recycling drop-off spot on Fulton Drive NW. The township set up the drop-off in 2002 to handle debris left behind by a tornado.

GETTING RID OF GRASS Robert Jacobs of Jackson Township dumps his grass clippings at the Jackson Township yard waste recycling spot on Fulton Drive NW. Officials are encouraging people to preserve landfill space by not throwing their yard waste out with the trash.

Perry Township, 5075 Southway St. SW, recycling station, Monday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday, Saturday 8 a.m. - 2 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

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