Dear Recyclebank: What’s the best thing to do with all the leaves in my yard this fall? –George P.
Dear George: One of the greenest things to do with all the leaves in your yard this autumn is actually nothing at all! But if you want a clean lawn, your next two best options for leaf disposal are mulching and composting right on your own property, and both are actually pretty doable, even for composting novices.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most common leaf disposal options — read on to find out which one works best for your yard:
1. Doing Nothing
If the idea of leaving leaves all over your lawn doesn’t distress you, then do it: Leave leaves on your lawn, right where they fall. That’s right: Do nothing! The leaves create their own ecosystem, providing shelter and food to animals like chipmunks, and insects like worms, and butterflies — and then the leaves decompose, returning nutrients to your soil. Besides those pros, you also save money and resources by avoiding electricity or gas used to power leaf blowers or lawn mowers, and you get a few weekends back to do what you want (which we’re certain wasn’t raking leaves). Sounds like a pretty great way to enjoy fall!
2. Mulching Leaves
If you have a moderate amount of leaves in your yard, mulching is the quickest, lowest effort, and greenest way to clean up your yard this fall: All you have to do is mow over the leaves right where they are. If you mow without a mower bag, you can leave the leaf chippings where they are; they’ll provide nutrients that will support the health of your lawn come spring. If you mow with a mower bag attached, you can then spread the chopped up leaves in flowerbeds, where they will act as nutrient-rich mulch. One downside here is burning the gas for the mower!
3. Creating A Compost Pile Of Leaves
If the idea of leaving leaf bits strewn about your yard isn’t appealing, you can put in a little bit more time and effort and compost the leaves — a solution that can be as green as mulching, when the only con is the gas or electricity used to power a leaf blower, or even greener, if you opt to rake instead. First, gather all the leaves into a pile, and cover them with a tarp. The tarp prevents them from blowing away, and helps create an environment ripe for composting. Turn the leaves with a rake to help add oxygen to the pile 3–4 times throughout fall and winter. This promotes decomposition. By spring, you should have some good compost to work with.
4. Using Local Yard Waste Services To Compost Leaves
If your municipality collects leaves, either curbside or at a drop-off center, you have another eco-friendly option at your fingertips, as those leaves are then turned into compost. Once the leaves are all gathered together, the only environmental cons here are the use of bags to contain the leaves, and the gas used for transporting the leaves to a central collection spot. But! If you are leaving your leaves out for your municipality to collect, be sure to follow their instructions for how they’d like to collect the them. If they would prefer you leave the leaves unbagged, at the curb, it’s important to time your raking as close to the pick-up time as possible (see the next section!).
5. Leaving Leaves At The Street
Unless your leaves are going to be picked up ASAP, leaving them at the curb to just … chill out … is not a great option — the leaves can clog storm drains, contributing to flood conditions, and can create hazardous situations for drivers and pedestrians, as leaves easily get picked up in the wind, become slick after rain, or just plain block sidewalks.
6. Burning Or Trashing Leaves
Don’t do it! Burning leaves releases molds into the air that are not great for human health. Trashing leaves contributes to methane buildup from landfills. And both options represent the loss of a valuable natural resource that could be feeding lawns.