Alternatives to Leaf Pick Up

by Mindy MacLaren

It’s October, leaves are falling, and residents will be looking to clean up their yards. Each Fall, and to a degree, in the Spring, thousands of bags of leaves and yard debris are put to the curb to be taken to landfills by local garbage service companies. Penfield has already undertaken steps to make itself more sustainable, but leaf pick up does not appear to be on the horizon. Offering alternatives to leaf removal service is important for those residents who would like it as well as for the health of the environment.

In addition to organic leaf matter going into landfills, the thousands of pounds of plastic bags they are collected in go in as well. Photo credit: M.MacLaren

Yard waste is reusable as well as compostable, yet it makes up more than 13% of our nation’s solid waste. 33 million tons of yard waste per year are dumped, taking up valuable landfill space and adding to the methane emissions already coming out of these locations (Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gasses with serious global-warming potential).

Additionally, fallen leaves can serve as habitat for all kinds of life forms from gnats to salamanders to butterflies to frogs to Bumble Bees.

While some of us see them as pests to be controlled, without bugs, “we might all be dead” declares National Geographic’s Simon Worall. Insects create the biological basis for all terrestrial ecosystems, processing nutrients, pollinating plants, spreading seeds, maintaining soil health, controlling the population of other insects, and providing a food source for other organisms. When bagged and tossed into the garbage, we lose millions of insects that are necessary for a healthy planet.

Helpful Options for Fall Leaf Removal

Recycling turns leaves and yard debris into sustainable, healthy solutions.

1). Compost your leaves. Suggestions on how to compost can be found here and here.

2) Mowing DRY leaves into small pieces provides nutrients to lawn and garden. Several recent studies have shown that this practice reduces weed growth in future years.

3). Grasscycling: grass clippings are 85-90% water and provide a significant amount of nutrients, making them great fertilizer. Research done at Michigan State University shows that growth is better when grass clippings and leaves are mulched all across the lawn.

4). Use an electric leaf blower or a rake to move leaves.

Burning leaves creates air pollution that can cause breathing problems for all of us, but most especially for those with pre-existing health issues; in Penfield, burning leaves is illegal.

Leaf Drop Off

In lieu of an actual leaf pick up service in Penfield, I’d like to suggest a town-wide leaf drop off option offered. It would be much more cost-effective than the purchase of a vehicle and the “man” hours required to do this job, but would fill the need that a third of Penfield residents would like offered and would be a much more sustainable option than is currently in practice. The parking lots behind the Clark House and next to Town Hall are already used for the piling of mulch, so these areas make sense for use for contained composting of organic yard matter. (Penfield does offer a recycling event, though for “yard brush” only…no leaves or grass clippings). As with the mulch, the leaf compost would be available to residents who want to use it.

I agree with Supervisor LaFountain that residents are free to choose what to do with the keeping of their own yards, and I appreciate that he offered similar suggestions about composting leaves as I have above, however, it seems to me that until an alternative option to leaf pick up is found, this topic will continue to be a yearly issue. I am aware that people will still bag and throw out their leaves, but with a simple alternative option available, more residents will take advantage of it, less plastic will go into landfills, more beneficial organisms will survive, and Penfield can add another environmentally sustainable achievement to its current list of things to be proud of.


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