Cows Help Recycle Phone Books

Farmer Recycles Paper

A herd of cows in Maine is letting its hooves do the walking through the yellow pages in a unique new use for old phone books.

More than five tons of discarded directories are shredded up every week and used as cow bedding on Ronald Webb’s dairy farm. The phone books are delivered free of charge to the farm by Nynex Corp., the local telephone company.

cattle recycle paper

The soiled bedding is later mixed with food scraps provided by Hannaford Brothers, a local grocery-store chain, in a composting project that eventually returns all the garbage to the earth and completes the cycle.

Tests have shown that ink from the shredded phone books has no adverse effect on the cows, said Ted Brown, environmental affairs manager with Hannaford Brothers. Also, udder infections have decreased since the phone books were introduced, and bacteria levels in the cows’ milk have dropped, resulting in less milk spoilage.

The phone books are used instead of sawdust or hay, creating less dust and better protecting the cows from slipping on manure in their stalls.

“The material has good absorption qualities,” Brown said. “Mr. Webb has not lost a cow to slippage since the project started two years ago. Usually, an average of two cows a year are lost when they slip and break a pelvis or leg.”

For the composting portion of the process, Hannaford Brothers supplies roughly two tons of food scraps a week. The waste is composed of trimmings from produce and unsaleable products.

Because the grocery-store chain separates its trash and provides Webb only organic material, the dairy farmer simply adds it to the compost mixture, Brown said. Currently, Hannaford Brothers is providing food wastes generated from 13 of its 91 stores to two farmers.

“This is a local effort that is providing a solution,” he said. “Our interest is high because this does good things for the grocery industry. It takes about 40 percent of our waste stream and gets it back into the ground naturally.”

Across the nation, food merchants typically have sent their wastes to landfills. But Hannaford Brothers believes separating wastes for composting or recycling is a better alternative, Brown said. The company is currently looking for more small agricultural businesses willing to take wastes into their operations.

“We don’t view the stuff as waste, but as a commodity,” he said. “A black banana should not go to a landfill or incinerator.”

Earth Fact: By hauling the old phone books to Ronald Webb’s farm, the Nynex Corp. saves thousands of dollars a year in landfill charges.

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