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Leaves & Garden Waste

​Nothing indicates a lack of understanding about solid waste management more than the sight of large black plastic bags filled with leaves sitting at the curb ready to be picked up and taken to the landfill. Leaves are a valuable resource − a part of nature's own recycling plan. Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment, and leaves can't decay without access to oxygen and microbes.

Thousands of towns are now recycling leaves for compost, or at least requiring their collection in paper or biodegradable plastic bags. Many are also providing residents with information about backyard composting, further reducing program costs. If your town is still permitting the disposal of leaves in plastic bags, today would be a good day to change the policy.

Garbage bags full of leaves

Irvington, NY, has an innovative program called "Your Leaves: Love 'Em & Leave 'Em" which encourages residents and landscapers to join with the town in conducting on-site leaf mulching. Mulching lawns, beds and other vegetation with shredded leaves is highly beneficial to soil health, improves drainage and reduces stormwater runoff.

The City of Laurel, MD, asks residents to rake their leaves into the grass between the sidewalk and the street. The City will vacuum up leaves from the street, create compost and sell it back to residents. 


[1] Schnitzler, J., et al. (2014). Seasonal Pattern of Isoprene Synthase Activity inQuercus roburLeaves and its Significance for Modeling Isoprene Emission Rates. Botanica Acta, 110(3), 240-243. 

[2] Cao, L., et al. (2015). Magnetic Response to air pollution recorded by soil and dust-loaded leaves in a changing industrial environment. Atmospheric Environment, 119, 304-313.

[3] O’Brine, T., & Thompson, R. C. (2010). Degradation of plastic carrier bags in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60(12), 2279-2283.

[4] Webster, J. R., et al. (2009). Nutrient Uptake and Mineralization during Leaf Decay in Streams - a Model Simulation. International Review of Hydrobiology, 94(4), 372-390.

[5] Fitzstevens, M. G., et al. (2017) Biogeochemial characterization of municipal compost to support urban agriculture and limit childhood lead exposure from resuspended urban soils. Elm Sci Anth, 5(0), 51.

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