3 ways to responsibly dispose of fall leaves

WISCONSIN — Autumn is in full swing in Wisconsin. That means apples and pumpkins, corn mazes and hayrides, flannel and football, the first specks of blaze orange on the horizon and leaves. Lots and lots of leaves.

As you rake and collect leaves in the coming weeks, you may be tempted to sneak them in the trash, pile them on the curb or set them ablaze, but there are many easy, more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of autumn’s bounty.

“Burning leaves emits toxins into the air and can have serious health effects,” explains Sam Weis of Clean Wisconsin. “Throwing them in the trash is illegal in Wisconsin. And piling loose leaves at the curb creates problems for Wisconsin’s wonderful waterways.”

When rain falls on dying leaf piles, phosphorus leaches out and travels into area lakes via storm sewers, leading to stinky, unsightly algae blooms in the summer. Luckily, there are numerous ways to dispose of your leaves that are beneficial to the environment and your back yard.

1. “Leaf” them on your lawn

Use your mower to mulch leaves into your lawn. The mower cuts the leaves into small pieces, which then fall beneath the grass canopy, returning nutrients to the soil and providing food for beneficial insects and microbes.

2. Compost

Composting requires a delicate balance of nutrients from yard and food waste. When composting leaves, add nitrogen-rich material such as grass clippings and fruit and vegetable scraps to the pile to help it break down. Chop up the leaves for faster composting, or save some to add to your compost pile throughout the year.

3. Make a mulch

Leaves provide a great, free mulch and winter groundcover. Shred your leaves (that’s important!) and pile them atop your annual garden or around perennial plants and shrubs for insulation and protection. Then, in spring, simply till the leaves into the garden.

If these options aren’t available, be wise. Take your leaves directly to a local yard waste collection site. Check the leaf pick-up regulations in your community, but best practices include putting leaves out shortly before pick up to minimize leaching.  Place the leaves in a loose pile on the curb, or use compostable lawn bags or cover with a tarp to keep them from blowing around the neighborhood.

“By responsibly disposing of leaves,” says Weis, “we can all help ensure future generations enjoy Wisconsin’s four seasons and wondrous environment.”