From watering your flowers to trimming your grass, yard work is an important part of maintaining your home. You might think of it as a relaxing activity, or just chores you have to do. However, did you know that the way you do yard work has an impact on the environment?
Whether it’s branches from pruning your shrubs, or grass clippings from mowing your lawn, the work you do to maintain your yard creates something called yard waste. Common examples include discarded grass clippings, leaves, and tree branches.
According to the EPA, yard waste accounts for over 35 million tons of garbage generated in the U.S. each year, making it the fourth-largest waste contributor. It can also cause algal blooms that upset the balance of the ecosystem, and release methane, a greenhouse gas, as it decomposes in landfills.
On the other hand, a healthy yard can help the environment. In this guide, we’ll go over four better ways to dispose of your yard waste that make your yard more eco-friendly.
One of the healthiest ways to dispose of your yard waste—that also helps you cut down on waste in general—is composting. Composting is a natural method of waste disposal. It recycles organic matter using its natural decomposition process, creating a nutrient-rich fertilizer that’s great for your soil.
A compost pile not only reuses your yard waste in a way that helps your plants grow, but it can also reduce the amount of waste you create from other sources, like food scraps. According to the EPA, yard waste and food scraps make up about 30% of what we throw away. Composting takes these materials out of landfills, turning them back into food for your garden.
To start a compost pile, you’ll need its four basic parts:
- Browns or dry waste, like dead leaves, branches, and twigs, for carbon.
- Greens or wet waste, like fresh grass clippings, wet leaves, food scraps, and fruit and vegetable peels, for nitrogen.
- Air for oxygen to help microorganisms break down organic material.
- Water for moisture that also helps decomposition.
Make sure your compost uses equal parts of brown and green material and that you alternate them in layers, placing larger materials, like branches and plant stalks, near the bottom for better aeration. Avoid composting meat and dairy, which might attract unwanted pests and produce unhealthy bacteria.
Mulching is another method that recycles yard waste naturally. It involves collecting waste, like tree bark, branches, sticks, grass clippings, and leaves, and shredding it to create a nutrient-rich, organic material to spread over your plant beds.
Using wood waste in mulch generally requires the extra step of running it through a wood chipper. Materials like grass and leaves, however, can be shredded easily using a lawnmower. Just be sure to let these materials dry out for a couple of days before using them in your yard.
To mulch a yard, you’ll need a wheelbarrow or hauler to transport the mulch and a shovel and rake to spread and distribute it. Once you’ve weeded the area you want to mulch, lay your mulch around the base of developed plants so that it isn’t touching the leaves or stems. In addition to giving them more nutrient-rich soil, mulching your plant beds will help protect your plants from weeds, extreme temperatures, and erosion.
Even if you don’t have a big yard or garden to maintain, you still have to mow your lawn. As we promote mowing less to help pollinators in the spring, whenever the lawn is mowed, we promote grasscycling with the leftover clippings. Even through our landscaping, we can always find ways be kind to our wildlife and help them flourish in their habitats. Grasscycling is a very easy way to turn the clippings you create back into food for healthy grass. It involves mowing your lawn so that the grass is never more than two to three inches tall, then leaving the trimmings where they fall naturally so they can decompose and feed your lawn.
Though it might require an extra lawnmowing session or two each month to keep your grass at that length, grasscycling generally reduces mowing time by 30% to 40% by eliminating the need to bag and remove trimmings. It also reduces the need for lawn fertilizer, one of the worst culprits in environmental damage from runoff.
If you don’t have the time to reuse your yard waste in your own yard, you could always consider donating it to a local community garden, a yard waste collection site, or even a neighbor.
Many community gardens have compost piles and encourage donations of locally sourced compost. Donating to a local organization might be as simple as bringing your waste over during a dropoff time or scheduling a pickup.
Similarly, you can recycle yard waste at your local county yard waste collection site or composting facility. Be sure to contact them for their specific guidelines on collection days, pickup and dropoff options, as well as how much and what kinds of yard waste they’ll accept. Some facilities might even repurpose your waste into mulch or compost for you, which is a great option if you want the benefits without having to make mulch or maintain a compost pile at home.
And if you don’t know anyone near you who composts, sites like ShareWaste can help you connect with people in your community who are looking for organic materials and food scraps to use in their gardens.
It’s sometimes hard to imagine that what we do in our homes has a larger impact on the world around us. Even if our individual impact is small, if everyone did their part, we’d have a much healthier, happier world.
The next time you’re working on your yard and it comes time to clean up, try incorporating some of these eco-friendly yard waste disposal methods. Your yard, and the earth, will thank you!