New England Outdoor Blog

How to dispose of yard waste responsibly

cleaning fall landscaping Maintenance Outdoors yard yard waste


In the past, getting rid of yard waste every fall was easy. You’d grab some big trash bags, spend the better part of a day raking up lawn, and then another hour re-raking the leaves after the kids and puppy romped through the pile.


Yard waste cleanup


Most homeowners today have a handful of options, ranging from municipal curbside pickup to mulching. We’ll discuss a handful of the most common and effective approaches, and give you some pointers on how to decide on the method that will work best for you.


Getting rid of yard waste: The old ways


Bonfire!


Yard waste disposal

Don’t do this!


If you think back far enough, you probably remember Saturday’s in the fall being the most awesome days. After you were done with your chores, and if you were lucky, your dad grabbed a match and you were treated to an impromptu bonfire.


Turns out, burning piles of leaves, sticks, and grass clippings isn’t great for the environment. Along with the negative health impacts of open burnings – like the increased prevalence of allergies and asthma attacks – there were also obvious public safety concerns. Open fires have since been banned in most urban and suburban areas throughout New England.


Curbside disposal: Can’t someone else do it?


For many, the answer is curbside disposal or drop-off. Most towns offer anywhere from two to six yard waste pickup dates spread between the fall and spring. Some private waste disposal companies contracting with counties throughout New England also remind customers that their waste will be taken for composting – so they should keep leaves and yard waste separated from other trash.


More and more, bagging and disposing of grass clipping, fallen leaves, and other yard waste is becoming taboo. Although banned in certain parts of New England, it does remain a convenient option for many. Disposing of yard waste in this way carries service costs, eats up tax revenues, and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions as the waste disposal trucks circle your neighborhood. All that waste also takes up landfill space that’s already at a premium.


Perhaps most frustrating of all, it also deprives your lawn of much-needed nutrients. For years, we’d bag up and dispose of our lawn waste in the fall, only to spread on heavy amounts of fertilizer right after. That fertilizer would run off into storm drains and from there into rivers, compounding the negative effects of our initial decision. There has to be a better way.


The new ways


Mulch!


Think about it for a second. You go out and buy a stack of yard waste bags at $3 a pop. You bag up your yard waste and put it out for collection. The town comes, picks it up and takes it off to be composted. When spring rolls around you get in your car and drive out to the composting center and buy a car-load of mulch.


Wait, what?


That doesn’t make much sense, does it?


That sounds like a lot of work…


In a recent post, we walked you through the benefits and basics of getting started with leaf shredding and mulching as you cleaned up your yard ahead of winter. If you don’t have the space or patience to deal with a separate leaf-mold cage, then we’ve got good news – you don’t need to! Leave ‘em in place (pun intended!). Do it the right way and you’ll be good to go for the fall.


Natural decomposition is your best friend here. Grass clippings left to lie on your lawn will disappear in a matter of days. Leaves aren’t much different. So long as you keep them from matting – which can cause mold and rot on your lawn – periodic mowing late into fall to chop them up will allow you to leave them in place as a good source of organic fertilizer.


Composting


This is closely tied to mulching. The real difference is more about how you’d produce, store, and use each resource.


Mulching – of grass clippings, fallen leaves, small twigs, and dead annual garden plantings – can largely be done in place. You may want to gather some of the waste into small piles before shredding if your plan is to spread it around trees, in garden beds, or along the perimeter of your yard or property. But otherwise there is (or can be) little extra labor that goes into mulching.


Composting, on the other hand, can be thought of as a slightly more involved process, but also one that can help you keep other waste out of the landfill. It’ll be up to you to decide if it’s worth pursuing – if you’re an avid gardener or take your environmental stewardship with the utmost seriousness, your mind’s probably already made up. For the rest of us, the benefits to composting make a strong argument in its favor – provided you have the space for a bin or enclosure in your yard.


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If you’re interested and serious about giving composting a chance, the good news is that it’s pretty easy to get started. The great people over at EarthEasy.com have a free set of plans for a simple compost bin that needs only a handful of materials to get you started. Provided you’re in a rural area and don’t need to worry about pests making off with your new black gold, you can even forego the enclosure and just use a pile in a convenient corner of your yard.


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