Please explain how replacing "yard waste" with "yard trimmings" is
to your examples of "ethnic cleansing" or "vertically challenged" -- I am
flabbergasted that you apparently think so. I hope that you did not infer
what I have said. Nothing that I have said indicates that I am suggesting the
of terms to mislead, deceive, confuse, or cover up evil, nor should one be so
to assume it. I am befuddled that these were the only examples in your
of how words can be used.
Just to be safe, let me spend some time on this matter. In composting,
can use terms that are understandable and send the appropriate message.
According to the National Association of Conservation Districts, "[t]he best
promote positive behaviors is to promote positive attitudes." Indeed, if we
new or better terminology, we can take advantage of this as an opportunity to
educate the public why we are doing so and reiterate the benefits of
I have spoken to many people about the need for a better composting (and
recycling) vocabulary, including people in the media. They get concerned that
then suggest some long, complicated, or unintelligible term. I then say "yard
trimmings", and they say, "Oh, that's okay. I like that." I do not expect a
with "food scraps" and the other terms I use. So I firmly believe these types
terms would not fit into the concern you expressed. The "wool" is not "being
pulled over anyone's eyes". These terms are clear, neutral in tone, unlike
which is in fact subjective and judgmental, more like what you are trying to
Furthermore, if we agree that composting is beneficial, why should we
on the wrong foot by referring to composting as "disposal" and the materials
compost as "waste"? Indeed, a logical but unfortunate extension of calling
feedstock materials "waste" is to refer to composting as "disposal". I do not
understand why these terms should be acceptable. If the answer is that we
always used these terms, I find this to be a weak excuse and not a good
am sure that we did not always call leaves and grass clippings "yard waste".
Something happened to change our vocabulary. Maybe it was when we started to
dispose of them in landfills, and using the word "waste" helped provide local
governments with the ability to control their handling and destiny. But if we
recover and compost them instead, why should we continue to call them "yard
waste"? Would we also want to say the forest floor is lined with "leaf" or
waste". Of course not!
From your message, you appear to prefer to react to undesirable
saying they are based on ignorance or stupidity. It is misplaced to call
stupid when they do not know what we really mean and we use the wrong words.
Why not avoid such behaviors by not explicitly or implicitly encouraging them
the start? This seems to be a more effective, active approach.
The other day I watched a story on the national news refer to
"junk" and "trash". How many consumers would want to buy products made from
recycled "junk" or "trash"? For many years, consumers believed that products
made from recycled materials were inferior to those made from virgin
and therefore would not show great preference to purchase these products. How
much of this was influenced by the terminology, rather than differences (if
quality, price, or other factors? In fact, many products contained recycled
materials but the manufacturer and marketer chose to not advertise this to
consumers, even though the products performed the same as products made from
virgin materials. Now that "recycled" is becoming more of a positive
attribute, it is
more often advertised to consumers. This is a good learning example for
composting. We do not need to use negative terms to refer to these materials.
Your recent message is also critical of the term "biosolids". I used
this term as
another example of an organization that created a new term or name, or
the use of a negative term -- if one considers that the quality of biosolids
improved over the past 20 or so years, primarily through greater industrial
prevention and pretreatment, one better understands the Water Environment
Federations interest to disassociate these residuals from some of the
baggage" attached to the word "sludge", especially if it has been composted.
Redefining ourselves and our products is nothing new and did not start
me. And composting should not consider itself off-limits to improvements and
changes. There is nothing nefarious about this. Choosing to use more
terminology in this regard is not deceptive. It is simply a reflection of a
sensible, educated approach to materials handling.
October 18, 1995
I'm sorry that I seem to have given the impression that I don't
think words or what we call things can be important. Of course
they can, they can be used for murderous deception, vide
"ethnic cleansing". On the other hand there are instances in
which the poor wagon of a word's meaning is unable to support
the weight of importance it is pressed into bearing. When people
are no longer short but "vertically challenged" and some
mid-level functionary is "chief assistant to the assistant chief"
then we can tell that the axles are definitely straining.
I do believe that by a state definition of "waste" farmers have
been prevented from accepting grass clippings, and that people
have put old hoses in with old leaves as "yard waste" for
recycling, but this illustrates ignorance in some instances and
stupidity in others, for as Frank Zappa stated, studpity being more
abundant than hydrogen is arguably the main constituent of the
The danger in this concentration on vocabulary tailoring is that
it will appear either silly or deceptive. When someone finds
out what "biosolids" actually *are* will they laugh or get mad?
Speaking as someone who has had improperly reapplied biosolids
approach my rustic residence by surface laminar flow, I can say
that "OH BIOSOLIDS!" was not the term that sprang instantly to exclamation.
Clear and conventional language, carefully applied, can convey the
meaning it needs to. The goal is understanding, for once people
understand *why* composting is vital, then they will start to view
and-some-really-gross-brown-stuff-lying-in-a-big-pile as a thing
of high value, if not beauty, even if it is called "waste".