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autumn fall leaves compost

Why You Shouldn't Send Leaves to the Landfill

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Oct 10, 2018

As the signs of autumn are upon us, homeowners face several landscaping tasks. One of which is dealing with the leaves that fall on the lawn. Every year, millions of households across the country rake up autumn leaves and place them in huge plastic bags to be picked up by the local garbage service. While this might be a quick and easy way to get rid of leaves, several environmental problems come with this "quick fix." Below, we look at some of the ecological consequences of sending your fall leaves to the landfill and then offer a few suggestions for more sustainable ways to deal with autumn yard waste.

Problems with Leaves in the Landfill

Yard waste, including grass clippings, pruned branches from trees and shrubs, and fallen leaves, is the third-largest component of municipal solid waste by weight, surpassed only by food waste and paper products. Of this yard waste, fallen leaves are by far the most proliferous source of waste in volume. 

The first problem with bagging your leaves to be sent to the local landfill is that this takes up precious landfill space. Today, most landfills are lined with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic to stop leakage of hazardous and toxic landfill waste and avoid groundwater contamination. Because of this plastic liner, garbage tends to decompose at a much slower rate, and debris can take decades to decompose fully. This situation presents a problem in terms of available space for future landfills. By not sending your yard waste to the landfill, you can do your part in helping to divert at least one-fifth of the total amount of waste sent to landfills around the country.

Second, as organic materials such as dead leaves decompose in the presence of non-organic materials prevalent in landfills, methane is released in large quantities. What's wrong with methane emissions? They are 28 to 36 times more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide, a leading contributor to global climate change.

Sending leaves to the landfill is like throwing money out the window. How? The leaves you to bag and send to your landfill can easily be composted into a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that you can later spread on your lawn. Americans collectively spend upwards of 40 billion dollars each year on taking care of their lawns. A study by Columbia University found that homeowners use at least ten times more pesticides and fertilizers per acre on their lawns as farmers do on their fields. Many of these pesticides cause serious health problems, while petroleum-based chemical fertilizers ruin topsoil. Composting your leaves has many benefits, such as reducing the amount of money spent on chemical fertilizers, reducing the water needs of your lawn, and increases your lawn's resiliency against weeds and pests.

You May Not Be Able to Throw Away Your Yard Waste

The ease of simply throwing away your leaves is becoming increasingly difficult. The Composting Council reported that 24 states had yard waste ban policies in effect due to decreasing landfill space as of 2008. The bans differ in scope. They either prohibit yard waste from being picked up by garbage services altogether or severely limit how much yard waste can be sent to the landfill. The report mentions that municipal and private composting operations that accept yard waste have grown from 1,000 to 3,500 facilities. 8 of the top 10 states with the highest number of facilities have instituted a yard waste ban, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.

Finding ways to compost leaves has become a legal issue gradually being enforced across the United States. One of the best ways to avoid problems, as a homeowner, is to learn how to compost your leaves.

autumn fall leaves compost

How to Create a Simple Compost Pile for Backyard Leaves

It is straightforward to compost the leaves in your backyard. One of the golden rules of composting is that you need to have 25-30 parts of carbon to 1 part nitrogen for proper decomposition to occur. Too much carbon and decay will be slow and undependable. Too much nitrogen produces problems with unwanted smells.

Dried leaf fall is almost 100 percent carbon. Therefore, to make quality compost from fallen leaves covering your lawn, you need to add one part of high-nitrogen materials for every 25-30 parts of leaves. High nitrogen materials that are easy to find around the house include green grass clippings, fresh kitchen waste, coffee grounds, and fresh manure from your pets.

Making a compost pile from your leaves and high nitrogen materials can be as simple as layering leaves and kitchen scraps into a mound in the back corner of your yard. If you want a bit more order, you can build a bin from recycled wood pallets to stack your leaves and nitrogen materials. Once you have raked your leaves into a pile, layer the carbon and nitrogen materials, add water and let sit. After a month or so, you might want to flip the pile with a shovel to encourage decomposition. By next spring, you should have rich and dark soil that is teeming with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients that you can spread over your lawn or garden.

If the process of composting all those leaves seems unfeasible, you can also invest in an inexpensive leaf shredder such as this one offered by Flowtron for under $170. This one-time investment will allow you to quickly make a nutrient-rich mulch that you can place around your landscaping trees and flower beds. Over the long run, you will most likely save money by reducing the amount you spend purchasing mulch from your local landscaping company.

How to Find Composting Centers for Yard Waste

If you do not have space in your yard for a compost pile, composting centers will pick up your leaves. Several cities and towns across the country have free or reduced-price composting programs that will pick up yard waste, kitchen scraps, and other recyclable materials. Call your local municipal waste provider to ask if they offer this service.

Alternatively, urban farmers and homesteaders will often be looking for a reliable source of organic material. Ask folks at your local farmers' market if they know of a farmer who would be willing to pick up your autumn leaves. The U.S. Composting Council also offers an interactive composting map that will allow you to search for a composting center near you.

Through composting, mulching, or sending your leaves to a composting center, you can deal with your autumn yard waste in a sustainable and healthy way.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-09T17:39:22+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.