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Hummel Column: There is no more junk

I drove past a small junky, hand-painted homemade sign today that said, "buying junk cars" and included a phone number. I've never seen a sign like that before, but I know that the price of scrap iron and junk metal is very high now, and folks are going out behind the barn, out into the woods and down into the coulees and dragging out old tractors, combines, plows, disks, trucks, pickups and cars left to rust and be concealed by weeds and hauling the junk into scrap dealers for hard cash. All this leads a person to wonder, is there really any junk anymore? Is anything worthless? Even pages of newspapers with boring columns on them can be recycled to wrap fish.

In some communities they set aside a week where you can haul your broken furniture, your old beds, broken lamps, ruined mowers and anything you want to get rid of out to the curb and the city will pick it up and haul it away. Besides the convenience of getting rid of the stuff is the positive development of folks who cruise the boulevards in search of something they need. If the people throwing the stuff away are near the curb when the cruisers stop, they'll help them load it up. Everybody feels good about it. Garage sales work almost the same way, except the goods have more quality and there is a price, although it's always a bargain. If somebody can use it, it's not junk.

Used clothing is not junk. Kids' clothes can be passed down to somebody a size or two smaller, two or three times. Among adults, there is always at least one person the same size as you. Somebody out there could put that old shirt you're wearing to good use. Our grandson, Half Nelson, went to the prom a few years ago in a seersucker '60's suit he bought for $7, in a thrift shop. It wasn't junk.

We have a big garbage bin in our garage where we deposit all our tin cans, glass jars, bottles, plastic containers, paper and cardboard. Every two weeks we roll this bin out to the curb and a big truck comes around and hauls all that stuff away. Those items would have all gone to the dump at one time, but now they're recycled into more tin cans, glass jars, bottles, plastic containers, paper and cardboard. In other places, the metal, glass, plastic and paper are required to be put into separate containers, but they're all recycled too. Unless you're a bitter, hard-core person who refuses to recycle because he believes recycling is like voting for Al Gore, it gives you a satisfying feeling to be doing your small thing about the environment.

Have you ever driven past a waste lagoon outside a sugar beet processing plant? There's a smell that could peel the paint off your car if you slowed down. You wouldn't want to live anywhere within five miles downwind of that lagoon. Well now, the sugar beet people are taking the waste pulp and creating methane they can use for fuel in their own plants. Then the rest of the pulp can be used as fertilizer in the form of compost. That's exciting news.

Of course we can make our own compost at home, by saving and composting our egg shells, lettuce leaves, vegetable waste, coffee grounds, grass clippings and other waste that once went to the dump. That stuff really churns itself into rich fill and fertilizer as it festers over the winter.

Even wind isn't junk anymore. I drove north on Highway 83 in North Dakota late in March, and counted about 50 of those huge wind generators in the Wilton area. All were turning slowly and cranking out kilowatts.

That country is where I grew up -- home on the range. The wind always blows out there. When I was a kid, surprisingly it stopped blowing one day for just a short time. All the cows fell over. That wind is power, and we're finally putting it to good use.

We can't all build wind generators, but we can all do our small part in the greening of America. If you don't have a place to put your egg shells, you can bring them to my place.