Letter: How I trashed my burn barrel

I thought we were good stewards of the environment.

We grow much of our own food, compost scraps for the garden, recycle everything the County accepts — clear, green, and brown glass, cans, newspapers, and PET 1 & 2 plastic — and have containers in the kitchen labeled “burnable” and “nonburnable.”

About 25 years ago I purchased a few dozen 55-gallon metal drums from a gentleman in Chester Gap, at $5 each. The gentleman is long gone and the drums are almost gone, as well. I have only two left. I use them to burn the contents of the “burnable” container. I call them burn barrels. You may have a burn barrel yourself.

When a burn barrel burns out (when the bottom rim burns through, typically after a year or more) I roll a replacement drum from behind the shed to the trash area and bang out both ends with a hand-held sledgehammer and a metal wedge. I rearrange a circle of cinder blocks, orient each block so air can get to the bottom of the barrel, place a round metal grate on the blocks, and the new burn barrel over the grate.

The arrangement works well. Paper burns furiously. Unburned material at the bottom of the barrel builds up slowly. I clean it out only once or twice a year.

The current burn barrel is burned out. I may replace it but probably won’t. I may not need to. I haven’t burned anything in weeks.

Most of what I used to burn is called “mixed paper” — magazines, catalogs, folders, labels, cardboard, all kinds of paper products.
One evening, during a neighborhood party at our house, a neighbor said we should recycle all that. The Environmental Protection Agency says residences generate an average of 50 million tons per year, or 55 to 65 percent of all “waste paper.”

The next day she showed up with three empty feedbags (she raises sheep) and a description of what is, and is not, “mixed paper.”
That was a few weeks ago.

The burn barrel in the trash area is still burned out but I haven’t replaced it because I haven?t seen a need. Instead, I take the contents of the “burnable” container to the Fauquier dump (Fauquier accepts Rappahannock County stickers.)

Fauquier County Environmental Services say almost any paper product is mixed paper. Examples include copy paper, colored paper, gift wrap, post-it notes, index cards, paper with staples, magazines, catalogs, newspaper inserts, junk mail, broken down cardboard such as prepared food boxes and shoe boxes, paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls.

Mixed paper does NOT include the following, which should be recycled separately: corrugated cardboard made of two sheets glued together with ribbed paperboard, newspapers, phone books, textbooks and paperback novels, low grade paper such as paper towels, napkins and padded envelopes, and paper products with plastic or wax.

Hal Hunter

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