Everything comes down to soil in the end. You've probably heard that Rupert Murdoch and his publishing company HarperCollins decided not to publish If I Did It, a description by O.J. Simpson of how things would have gone down a dozen years ago if he had in fact killed his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Unfortunately, HarperCollins had printed some 400,000 copies of the book before they got the word from Mr. Murdoch. Now, HarperCollins has nearly half a million books to destroy. If the books weigh about a pound each, that comes out to 200 tons of paper. I have one word for the publisher: compost.
Publishers routinely go to professional shredding companies to dispose of books that aren't selling. (The shredding trade group bears the portentous name National Association for Information Destruction.) If you'd been diligently reading Recycling Today, you'd know that Random House recently purchased its own Bollegraaf system for shredding and baling at its Crawfordsville, Ind., book-destruction facility.
The professionally shredded stuff goes to landfills, where it decomposes eventually. But, especially in the case of O.J.'s opus, that would be missing an opportunity to turn something apparently useless into the most useful thing of all—better soil.
In a country of 300 million, we've got to have at least half a million serious compost-makers. These good souls walk out of the kitchen day after day, in snow and rain, to toss kitchen and garden waste onto a compost heap. Composters then wait a few months and spread the matured rich, dark crumbly stuff on their flower and vegetable beds.
You can enclose the heap, or not, put it in a plastic tumbler, or not. There are many theories as to what works best, complex descriptions of how to get the pile warm and working fast; the inevitable truth is that everything breaks down eventually. It's hard to fail with entropy, for once, on your side.
Dedicated composters have been pushing the envelope, mixing in newspaper, telephone books, and cardboard. So, here's the plan: Give out one copy apiece of If I Did It to individual organic gardeners, and get them to sign a pledge not to read the book or sell it on eBay.
The glossy color cover, with metals in the pigments, is the first problem. Composters should rip off the covers and let them soak for a few months.
The next step is to shred the pages into pieces small enough to decompose readily. Shredding the pages by hand would be, in its way, cathartic, but very slow. You could use an office paper shredder, or you could put clumps of pages into the kind of tumbler that municipalities use for grinding and recycling Christmas trees.
You may recall the Lewiston, Maine, minister who wanted to burn copies of the Harry Potter books, imbued as they were with black magic. Denied a burning permit, he had to shred them by hand. Let's give that man something more productive to do.