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Rockdale mulch free to public

CONYERS -- Free drop off of yard waste is a service many Rockdale County residents enjoy, but officials hope people will also take advantage of the free mulch that is a by-product of the local yard warriors.

Community activist Garvin Haynes suggested recently that the county government should use mulch produced at the recycling center for landscaping as a way to encourage residents to use it, too, and possibly save money on pine straw purchases for landscaping such as around the county's Olde Town campus.

The decision remains to be made on Haynes' idea. Officials said the county already uses a large portion of the mulch from the recycling center for landscaping at parks and erosion control. Sue Roberts, deputy director for the county Recreation and Maintenance Department, said they haul some of the mulch out to stay within state environment mandates and allow commercial haulers to take as much of the stuff they want without charge.

"We always save a pile for the citizens because that is our first priority," she said. "We load it for everyone for free."

However, the amount of yard waste dumped has caused concern at the recycling center where too much yard waste, and the mulch produced from it, can cause a fire danger.

That is exactly what happened on Aug. 14, 2007, when a little-monitored mulch pile combined with dry weather and soaring temperatures produced a perfect formula for fire, which was quickly controlled but took weeks to extinguish.

County officials re-examined procedures at the recycling center, which included the state's Environmental Protection Division requiring the county to remove as much of the mulch as they take in. Roberts said that's been difficult to do with the county's growing population and that was part of the reason the recycling center instituted a limit last year of one load of yard waste per week from residents.

"We are trying to remain within state regulations so that we can continue to offer this service to the citizens," Roberts said. "It has been an ongoing concern of ours that if we don't keep the yard waste under control, we could be forced to not offer this service. It has been misunderstood that the county was trying to get out of providing the service when in actuality we are trying to do all that we can to continue to offer it."

Another change after the fire was that the county separated treated wood scraps and discarded lumber out of the mulch mix. The practice is done to keep unknown substances out of the mulch in case of fire, but it also has meant the mulch at the recycling center is made only from yard waste.

"It is ground very finely and very conducive to holding water around plants and trees," Roberts said. "We planted plants and shrubs at the Recycling Center to exhibit the benefits of using our mulch."

The recycling center staff will mechanically load mulch free of charge every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Loading during the week can be arranged by appointment. For more information, call 770-785-6883 or visit the recycling center's page at www.rockdalecounty.org.