Many people don't understand the value of recycling grass and leaves. Since some municipalities allow leaves and grass clippings to be bagged and put out for trash pick-up, they send the wrong message that this is the best way to dispose of yard waste. Sadly, this practice does more harm than good by overfilling landfills with plastic bags that don't readily decompose. When you recycle grass and leaves, you are doing what's best for your lawn and the environment.
Why Recycle Grass and Leaves
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 18 to 50 percent of landfill waste is composed of yard waste. With landfills rapidly running out of room, it is clear that other ways are needed to dispose of organic waste materials.
Thankfully, it isn't necessary to send leaves, grass and other yard waste to a landfill since it isn't really "waste". Yard clippings are full of valuable nutrients that can be used in your yard, garden or compost pile. When you recycle grass and leaves, you are saving yourself time and money while conserving valuable landfill space.
How to Do It
One of the easiest ways to recycle your leaves and grass clippings is simply by leaving them on your lawn. This practice is often called grasscycling. You can chop leaves with your lawnmower and let them stay on your lawn just as you did with the grass you mowed.
This practice saves you money since you'll need less fertilizer. Grass clippings are rich in nitrogen and will release these nutrients back into your lawn as the clippings breakdown. This can save you as much as 25 percent on lawn fertilizer and prevent harmful runoff. Additionally, it will save you time since you won't be bagging your yard waste. Just mow your lawn and be done!
Contrary to what many people believe, leaving clippings on your lawn won't cause thatch build-up. Thatch is caused by over-fertilizing that leads to overgrown grass. It can also be caused by improper mowing, such as inconsistent moving practices. Keep your grass cut at about three inches in height, with a plan to mow when it grows to four inches high. Doing this will create small enough clippings that can easily disappear and breakdown in your lawn.
If you just can't stand leaving clippings on your lawn, then try creating a compost pile. This will allow you to make your own organic compost that can be used throughout your landscaping. Composting can be as simple as making a pile in a corner of your yard or as elaborate as a composting system or composting bin. To compost your grass and leaves, add them to your chosen compost system. Fresh grass with dried leaves make a good combination. Keep an even balance of dry and wet materials and making sure the pile gets adequate ventilation will ensure that your compost breaks down properly without any offensive odors. Keep adding to your pile, including kitchen scraps if you'd like, and you will eventually end up with a pile of nutrient rich compost that can be used all over your landscape. Avoid using any animal or diary products in your compost pile as this created odors and can attract pests. According to the University of Illinois Extension, "The more surface area the microorganisms have to work on, the faster the materials decompose."
There are still many cities that allow yard waste to be bagged for garbage pick-up. In some cases, this yard waste is recycled in a city-run compost facility instead of being hauled off to a landfill. You may also have the option of dropping off your yard waste to be composted or turned into mulch.
The resulting compost or mulch is then sold to gardeners to use in their home landscape, though some communities offer compost free to residents. If you choose to take advantage of free compost or if you purchase it from the city, keep in mind that this may not be an organic product. Since many people still spray chemicals on their lawns and throughout their landscape, these chemicals will be on their yard waste and therefore, in the compost.
If you have more yard waste than you can use yourself, you can still feel better sending it to a composting facility than a landfill. Check with your city to see if they have a yard waste recycling program and what the requirements are to participate. You can find composting programs near you by visiting EPA.gov.
Many Options for Recycling Yard Waste
With so many options available for recycling your yard waste, you can make an environmental impact that will provide you and your family with rich compost for your yard and gardens. If you have too much yard waste, and are civic-minded, you may want to get together with neighbors and others in your community to create a community compost site. Keeping your grass clippings and leaves out of the landfill can have far-reaching effects, especially as others in your neighborhood follow your lead.