Uprooted shrubs, leaves, and branches are biodegradable, so you can just leave them wherever and let Mother Nature take her course, right?
Strange as it may seem, yard waste materials can cause significant environmental harm if they are improperly disposed of. They can do a lot of good if they are recycled, instead!
Yard Waste in The Community
A surprising number of homeowners choose to leave yard waste where it falls or drag it a few feet to the side of their yard under the misconception that it will harmlessly compost itself.
While at-home composting systems can be beneficial, it can be damaging to the community if it’s not done properly. Piles of moist decaying matter can produce foul odors and invite rodents and insects near your home. Dried out organic matter can be a fire hazard. Leaving yard debris where it falls or stacking it near your home can be especially detrimental if wind or rain carry it into storm drains, causing blockages, or into the street, causing car accidents.
Yard Waste in Landfills
Another common misconception is that because yard waste is organic, it doesn’t matter much if it ends up in the trash.
As yard waste breaks down, aerobic bacteria and other microorganisms transform it into compost that can return nutrients to plants and improve the quality of your soil; but when yard waste breaks down in a landfill, it does so in an anaerobic environment. Waste management tactics like burning and burying are done in an oxygen-free environment, creating a buildup of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Landfills are the third-highest producers of methane in the U.S., in part because “green waste” makes up a significant percentage of the total waste stream. The EPA estimates that nearly 14% of all municipal solid waste is made up of yard waste, putting it in third place behind paper and food scraps. If these yard trimmings were recycled, that would be 33 million pounds of material diverted from landfills every year.
Proper Yard Waste Disposal
In the state of Florida, many of us are fortunate to live in municipalities that value and prioritize responsible waste management practices. Homeowners in other states don’t have access to regular curbside yard waste pickup.
Even in areas where curbside pickup is not offered, yard waste can be collected at local recycling centers or by private collection companies. Check your local recycling center policies for specific information on how and where to dispose of your yard waste.
Here are a few common practices to keep in mind when recycling your yard waste:
Avoid mixing dirt or rocks with your yard waste. These items are non-compostable and can be dangerous to people and equipment at waste management and recycling facilities.
Many communities require curbside yard waste to be placed in paper yard waste bags or county-provided yard waste recycling receptacles.
Most yard waste recycling programs limit the width of branches that can be recycled.
Not all plants can be recycled! Invasive species (like kudzu or Japanese honeysuckle), diseased plants, and harmful plants like poison ivy or sumac should go into the trash instead.