What is this? To some it is only a messy pile of leaves. To others it represents the potential for the formation of a multimillion dollar cooperative in our community.
All the recent hoopla in Garland, Texas over complaints regarding the bags of leaves down at the Garland Community Garden may actually end in a very positive outcome for our municipality. These complaints have highlighted and called attention to 1) the lack of understanding that some of our residents have regarding the value and potential benefits of recycling leaves and 2) the lack of understanding regarding organic garbage from our refrigerators that we put into these bags which are then picked up by the city and hauled off to our landfill.
We need to get going here with some serious education regarding the value for recycling our leaves and the vegetable scraps from our refrigerators in the community of Garland. Currently we put thousands of pounds of organic matter into our landfill that could be recycled into fertile garden soil used by residents of our community and other communities to grow edibles.
NOTE: As a Garland resident who has no large trees in my front yard, I bag up no less than 10 large leaf bags a year--just from leaves from my neighbors that blow into my yard. The folks who live in the older area of Firewheel Farms, have as many as 25 completely stuffed leaf bags put out each fall on their front curbs. (I know because that's where the majority of the leaves have come from that we've gathered for the Garland Community Garden. They make it easy for us. )
So let's meet half way in creating a ballpark estimate for leaf bags. Some households like mine may have as few as 10 while others have at least as many as 25 bags. Let's say that each one of our 80, 834 household generates 10 bags of leaves every year. Just how many bags is that every fall going to our land fill? That would be a very conservative estimate of 808,340 bags of leaves. This count would likely be closer to one million bags if you consider that many businesses also bag up leaves for our city to pick up. And that doesn't even take into consideration the amount of spoiled vegetable matter each year that we either put down our garbage disposals or into a polyethylene bag for the city to pick up and carry to our landfill. At a pound a week per resident, that amounts to 52 pounds a year. Multiply that amount by 234,566,000 residents.
Polyethylene bags do not biodegrade. They can, however photo-degrade when exposed to sunlight over a period of time. Most of the bags in our landfills are buried from the sunlight long before the process of photo-degradation has time to begin. Thus estimates that scientists give for the breakdown of these bags ranges from 500 years to never.
Our landfills have been accurately referred to as "trash tombs." Even banana peels don't decompose once they reach a landfill. The garbage within a landfill receives little to no air, sunshine or water. This means that organic matter that might otherwise decompose, instead mummifies. [Source: Will My Plastic Bag Still Be Here in 2507?]
Consider this: Those bags full of leaves that you put out on your front lawns every year to be picked up by the City of Garland are part of your legacy as a human being. They will live longer than your children, your children's children and even the memory of you and what you did in your brief moment in time on our planet.
THERE IS A BETTER SOLUTION:
WE CAN FORM A BUSINESS COOPERATIVE THAT CREATES JOBS AND SOIL FOR GARDENS AND REVENUE FOR OUR LOCAL ECONOMY
An enterprising group of people here in Garland could band together to form a cooperative. The purpose of this cooperative would be to establish a for-profit business that picks up and processes leaves and other biodegradable matter such as paper, cardboard, and unprocessed vegetable matter into rich garden soil.
Other cities such as Mesquite and Plano do process at least some of their leaves and organic matter into soil. However, as I understand their services and operations, this is done with some expense to their local taxpayers as it is done solely through their city governments. I could be mistaken but I don't think either municipality's operations of these facilities are without support from their taxpayers.
Perhaps its possible that we in Garland might, with assistance from our City leaders in the beginning and perhaps even some State and Federal grants, establish a for-profit business cooperative that would serve its members and members of our local community by creating jobs. It is an idea and an alternative certainly worth consideration.
COOPERATIVES AS A BUSINESS MODEL
Cooperatives offer the most stable form of business for a local community. This form of business structure is anchored in the local economy. Their primary purpose is to create products and services that are largely consumed by the local residents and folks in the surrounding region. It has been observed in several studies that communities who have locally-held cooperatives have much healthier economies than those that do not.
All communities need various types of businesses-- chain stores, corporations, mom and pop shops and cooperatives--in order to stabilize the local economy. Cooperatives, because of their local ties and local membership are highly stable business models. Mom and pop shops usually consist of one or two people and less than 10 employees, if any. When the owner dies or decides to move away, these business often end their existence abruptly and often with disastrous impacts to the local economy. The Co-op on the other hand has many other people to step up to the plate and continue its operations when one of its members leaves.
Consider the chain store or corporation: Their leadership is not local. Their loyalty to the local community extends only as far as the bottom line as defined by the people at their corporate headquarters. If their accounting folks at corporate headquarters decide that it is more profitable for them to consolidate stores and move one or more out of Garland, then that's what happens.
Like leaf bags, most Americans don't understand cooperative business structures either. Some folks think of them as a leftover business style from the 1960's and early 1970's. Others think of them as a communistic business model. The truth is that the cooperative business model is perhaps the most democratic form of business there is.
RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE ABOUT COOPERATIVES AS A BUSINESS MODEL
Research from the University of Wisconsin on the Economic Impact of Cooperatives.
Building Community Wealth with Cooperatives