Wondering how to dispose of yard waste, especially if you don’t have a municipal pickup program available? Here are eight eco-friendly ways to dispose of yard waste so it doesn’t end up in landfills and incinerators.
We have a lot of large trees in your yard. Inevitably, with each storm or windy day, branches fall from the treetops and sprinkle our yard. Most of the falling branches and brush are harmless, though we have had a couple of large trees fall in recent months.
When the larger branches and trunks fall, we enlist family and neighbors to help us clean up the mess. One of our neighbors has a wood stove, so they chop up the wood and use it to heat their home in the winter.
Most of what falls, however, isn’t particularly useful to burn for heat. Since moving into this house, we have piled up the smaller branches and brush in the woods at the side of our yard. After five years of pretending we could toss fallen branches into the woods and they’d magically disappear, we faced the facts and decided to clean them up a few weeks ago.
We thought about burning everything and putting the ash in the compost bin. I know … CO2. We borrowed a wood chipper from a neighbor and quickly learned that that DIY project would take us all stupid summer.
We decided to hire a service to do it for us and … a few hours later (seriously!) a large tree in our front yard split and fell, so we needed to hire a tree removal service anyway. Funny how life works out. Now we have six cubic yards of fresh mulch to spread in our yard.
Yard waste doesn’t belong in the trash. It’s part of the life cycle of nature and can be used to return nutrients from plants back to the soil to continue the circle of life. Below, I’ve included a bit more about what constitutes yard waste, why we should not put yard waste in the trash, and eight ways to dispose of yard waste that are good for the planet and good for your communities.
What Is Yard Waste?
Yard waste is vegetative or organic material that generates from regular yard and garden maintenance as well as natural attrition of plants in your yard. Yard waste includes things like:
- grass clippings
- fallen leaves
- tree trimmings or fallen branches
- stems and other remnants from gardens
Why Not Toss Yard Waste in the Trash?
Yard waste, like food scraps, is organic waste that does not belong in a landfill or incinerator. When sent to a landfill, yard waste does not decompose properly and releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that the United States Environmental Protection Agency says is at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
While some landfills capture the methane for energy and some incinerators generate energy, organic yard waste has much higher and better uses than being turned into toxic gas for energy.
8 Eco-friendly Ways to Dispose of Yard Waste
Do the planet, your community, and future generations a favor by not tossing yard waste into the trash. Consider instead more responsible disposal alternatives like the following eco-friendly ways to dispose of organic yard waste.
Turn Yard Waste Into Mulch
Use a wood chipper or hire a tree removal service to chip your yard waste into mulch. We tried borrowing a wood chipper from a neighbor, but we had far too much material to chip on our own after five years of neglect. Had we been more diligent about mulching regularly, I’m certain we could have tackled this project ourselves.
If you want to try creating your own mulch but don’t own a wood chipper, borrow one from a neighbor if you can. Ask to borrow one through a local Buy Nothing group if you don’t know someone who can lend their wood chipper to you. Many people also use Buy Nothing groups to swap services or skills, so you could request someone provide a gift of their time to help you accomplish the task.
With respect to soil health, mulch not only helps garden beds look nice, but it also covers bare soil. Bare soil has much less life and biodiversity in it and is more prone to erosion than covered soil. Repurpose fallen branches and brush as mulch for your garden beds and other open spaces. Mulch can also be expensive, especially when you incur delivery fees, so using yard waste to create mulch can be a more affordable landscaping option too.
Leave Grass Clippings On The Lawn
Save time and energy by leaving grass clippings on your lawn after mowing. Grass clippings protect the soil and decompose to return valuable nutrients to the soil. If the grass clippings are especially large or clumping, mow over them a second time to break them down and spread them more evenly (if that’s important to you).
Grass clippings help keep the grass healthier. Not tossing them in the trash also eliminates any emissions related to transportation that may be required to haul them away.
Related Reading: 8 Tips for Eco-Friendly Lawn Care Alternatives
Use Brush and Branches to Fill Raised Beds and Build Planting Mounds
Branches, brush, leaves, and other yard waste are great materials to add bulk when creating or filling raised garden beds or making mounds on which to plant things like pumpkins, squash, and melons. Fill the bottom of the bed with the yard waste and top it off with soil and compost.
Over time, the branches and brush will break down and release nutrients into the soil which is great for plants. Using these types of bulky items to create the foundation for garden beds also saves money by reducing the amount of soil and compost needed for the build.
Compost Yard Waste
Some people hesitate to put yard waste like branches and thick stems in a compost pile because it takes a long time to break down. It’s true that branches and sticks take a long time to decompose. They won’t have enough time to sufficiently break down in a hot compost pile that you intend to finish processing in a few weeks or even a few months.
However, bulky yard waste is great to add to a low-maintenance compost pile like what you might leave in a DIY wooden pallet bin for a year or more. If you have space, build a “low and slow” (i.e. breaks down slowly at a low temperature with little maintenance) compost heap from repurposed wooden pallets or other upcycled materials.
Let your yard waste slowly decompose and turn into lovely garden gold over a year or more with next to no manual effort. You may choose to turn or aerate your “low and slow” yard waste compost heap a few times a year, but it’s not necessary if you’re not in a rush to see it break down.
Drop Yard Waste At A Municipal Collection Site
Some cities and towns have collection sites for yard waste. Occasionally they also accept residential food scraps, but many take only yard waste (for fear of attracting rodents and other critters or creating a smelly mess in the neighborhood).
If your municipality has an organic waste collection site, store your yard waste materials and drop them off a few times a year or as often as needed so they don’t end up in the trash. Be sure to collect your organic waste in compostable bags like these large paper bags. Plastic bags or those made from other non-compostable materials could contaminate the compost. There are special organic waste collection bags made just for the purpose of storing and transporting yard waste to encourage the collection of yard waste and prevent contamination.
Save Yard Waste for Municipal Pick-up Dates
Many municipalities pick up yard waste on specific days during the year. Some offer regular collections while others only offer seasonal collections a few times each year. Either way, hang on to your yard waste if you have no other use for it, and set it out for municipal collection when available.
Burn Yard Waste and Compost The Ash
Burning yard waste may not be the best alternative because it releases carbon from the organic matter into the atmosphere. However, it’s a better alternative than throwing yard waste in the trash if that is your only other alternative. Burning yard waste at home eliminates emissions from any transportation of the yard waste and provides wood ash that can be composted.
So long as all of the materials you burn are compostable, the ash from the burning yard waste can also go in your compost bin. Ash has a high alkaline consistency. If you have an acidic compost pile, ash can help offset that. However, don’t add too much ash at once to your compost bin if the pile has a neutral pH or excessive ash can offset the balance.
Further, if you do plan to burn yard waste, be sure to follow municipal guidelines about starting fires and be cautious about best practices for managing fires in your area. Burning yard waste in an arid climate ripe for wildfires, for example, may not be a viable option.
Donate Yard Waste to a Friend or Neighbor
If you can’t use your yard waste, ask around to see if a friend or neighbor can use it. They may be able to use the wood like our neighbor. Maybe they can mulch it and use the mulch for their garden beds or fill raised beds in their own space. You might also consider offering it in a local Buy Nothing group or on Facebook Marketplace for free, depending on how valuable what you have to offer might be to someone else.
Please Don’t Dispose of Yard Waste in the Trash
Organic waste in landfills and incinerators contributes to climate change by releasing potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when anaerobic bacteria work to break down the materials in an environment void of oxygen. We also miss an opportunity to protect and rebuild our soil by not implementing a method for disposal that returns yard waste nutrients back to the Earth.
We learned the hard way that we need to be more proactive about managing our yard waste in a timely fashion instead of letting it pile up for five years and become an overwhelming project. Going forward, we will likely borrow the wood chipper from our neighbor once a year or so and offer him a gift card to his favorite local restaurant in exchange for sharing the machine with us.
How do you dispose of your yard waste? Share in the comments if you have any other ideas about how to dispose of yard waste to ensure it benefits the soil and our planet instead of ending up in our landfills and incinerators.