Fall Leaves: Don’t Toss Them… Recycle Them!

Got a yardful of Fall leaves? Don’t rake, bag, and toss… get ready for Spring plants by recycling them.

 You don’t have to go far west of St. Louis to get a magnificent view of Autumn colors. At this time of year, the Ozarks explode with reds, yellows, and browns… the beauty of the season almost makes driving and biking dangerous!

When I get home, however, I’m confronted with a yardful of Fall splendor from the neighbor’s silver maple. The experience isn’t quite the same.

You could sum up the typical method of dealing with those Fall leaves with "rake, bag, toss." Nature doesn’t create waste, though, so why send that carbon-rich material to the landfill when you could reuse it throughout the year? Don’t think of that (sometimes thick) blanket of leaves as a mess to clean up and dispose of, but one of the ingredients for next year’s gardens and landscaping. Those leaves quickly become to valuable to just toss…

Recycling Your Autumn Leaves

Depending on what you want to do with those leaves, you have several options for "recycling":

  • Mow ’em: If leaves fall primarily in an area you’d normally mow, then keep mowing once they start coming down. Start early, though: as Paul Tukey at Safelawns notes, most mowers aren’t up to tackling a blanket of leaves. No need for any collection, and the chopped leaves become food for the lawn.
  • Rake ’em: Few of us enjoy raking (though, as Tukey notes in a different post, it’s a great form of exercise). It’s definitely the most eco-friendly way of taking care of the leaves, though. Instead of setting them out for trash collection, though, put them in your compost bin or pile… Care2 has a great process for composting those leaves.
  • Mulch ’em: While this method requires a bit of power, it also makes for a more versatile end product. I use an electric mulcher (much cleaner than gas equivalents) for my yard. The chopped leaves can go into my compost bin (where they’ll break down faster than whole leaves), or I can (and often do) save them for garden mulch for the Spring. Try to avoid the plastic bags for storage (though I’m as guilty of this as anyone)… opt for reusable or biodegradeable bags.
  • Toss ’em: Wait… didn’t I say don’t toss them? In general, that’s correct, but if hanging on to those leaves is problematic, check to see if there’s a local composting site where you can take them. Earth 911 will help you find one…

Got more creative ways of handling Fall leaves with a minimal environmental footprint? I’d love to hear them… share them in the comments.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can follow him on Twitter @sustainablog

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oakleyoriginals/ / CC BY 2.0