Picture it: a crisp Autumn day, walking through the woods, the crunch of leaves under your feet, you can hear the wind making its way through the forest of orange and yellow leaves, a small leaf drifts down and gently lands on your shoulder. Ah, nature. So peaceful.
Then you travel home, and dive into yard work. You rake up the leaves and stuff them into plastic bags, drag them to the curb. There you go, garbage truck, here’s some trash. Done.
Meet one of my pet peeves: treating the most natural of natural material - organic matter that will quickly biodegrade, something that is necessary for the life cycle of nature - as waste, and then packaging it in plastic for the trip to the landfill.
LEAVES. AREN’T. TRASH.
They might get in your way, or cover up your lawn, or get a little messy on the sidewalk, but just moving them to a different location on your property is a huge benefit to the environment.
Leaving the leaves provides food and shelter for birds, insects, reptiles, and small mammals, which is especially needed during the winter months. You want to see more butterflies? Leave the leaves so their larvae and/or eggs have a place to overwinter. When you haul the leaves to the curb for the garbage truck, you’re tossing out lots of beneficial insects that need to stay around.
Leaving the leaves supports the natural rhythm of life: the leaves grow from the tree, they fall, they return to the soil and nourish the tree, and it begins again.
Leaving the leaves provides you with free mulch. Rake them in piles and transport them or blow them into your flower beds and gardens. It will keep your plants cozy for the winter and will break down and nourish your plants.
Have too many leaves? Our back yard creates piles larger than I can use around the gardens. Find a corner where you can make a leaf compost pile. We have a small square “box,” open at the top and bottom with side openings to breathe. Put your leaves in the compost area (it can literally just be a pile) and it will break down quickly into some really good compost for your plants. Sometimes I forget it’s there, so it is just making some excellent soil in that particular corner. Better than sending all that goodness off to the landfill!
I’ve been known to grab a plastic bag of leaves from a neighbors curb on my walk home, dragging it to my house where I use it as mulch around my plants or put it in my compost. I possibly went back for more, and then recycled the plastic bag at my local store drop-off.
What if you really want the leaves to go?
If you really want to throw the leaves away and get them out of your space, in most areas you can simply pile all your leaves by the curb, bag free, and it will get picked up without problem.
I’ve never bagged any yard debris, and piles of weeds or trimmed branches that need to go are always removed. Literally no need for a bag.
I called the city waste department where I live, and they confirmed bag-free is perfectly fine. If there are a lot of leaves during leaf season, the city vacuums the leaf piles on certain days. During the rest of the year, the lady told me you can bag leaves to make it easier for the trash pick up, but it isn’t required. And everything else should be piled on the curb. Again, no need for a bag.
If you live in an area where bagging leaves is required, or you just love putting them in bags, you can get the big paper yard waste bags almost anywhere. These will breakdown naturally just like the leaves! These bags are actually required in some cities, preventing plastic-bagged yard debris.
So leave the leaves, and by all means, leave the plastic bags out of it. Happy Fall!
For more information about why it is best to “Leave the Leaves,” take a look at this National Wildlife Federation article Why You Should Leave the Leaves.