Fall Leaves: Trash or Treasure?

Fall Splendor, Catoctin Mountain Park  © Roshani Kothari

Fall Splendor, Catoctin Mountain Park © Roshani Kothari

Fall is a beautiful time of year.  Leaves change from green to golden, orange and crimson.  Soon after they turn brown and fall to the ground, and then the work starts!  People start raking their leaves and putting them in bags.  What happens to all these leaves?

I was shocked to find out that in DC bags of leaves are collected and go into the landfill.  According to the DC Department of Public Works website, “This year’s fall leaf collection program runs between November 8, 2010 and January 15, 2011. DPW will collect leaves at least twice from residential neighborhoods by “vacuuming” the leaves residents rake into their treebox spaces. We also will collect bagged leaves from the treebox space or the alley in neighborhoods with rear trash and recycling collections. Bagged leaves will be placed in the landfill.

The article continues to say that “DPW collects between 8,000 and 10,000 tons of leaves between November and January each year. Most of the leaves collected by vacuum trailers are composted and recycled.  More than 4,500 tons of leaves collected during the 2009-2010 leaf collection season were composted. Between March and October, residents may call 311 to request compost for neighborhood garden/beautification projects or go to the Ft. Totten Transfer Station, 4900 John F. McCormack Road, NE, Saturdays (except holidays) between 8 am and 3 pm.”

I was relieved to read that at least some of the leaves are composted, but it seems ridiculous that bagged leaves are not composted as well.  The DPW advises residents, “If you choose to bag your leaves, please use paper bags. Plastic bags will damage the equipment. You may place bagged leaves in the treebox space or next to the trash/recycling container(s).”

The City of Takoma Park composts all its leaves instead of placing some of them in the landfill.  Not only that, they make the leaf mulch available to the public.  Their website says, “The leaves collected in the fall vacuum collection program are ground and are available in the spring as shredded leaf mulch. The mulch is stored at the Public Works Department, 31 Oswego Avenue, and can be self-hauled for free.”

I saw several plastic bags of leaves on my street.  For me fall leaves are treasure! I use them in my compost to add carbon and as a mulch in the vegetable beds.  I lugged several bags of fall leaves and squirelled them away for later use in my garden.  If you want to make your own leaf mulch, check out this guide.

The Daily Dump site explains the benefits of leaf mulch.

“How does leaf mulch help – again?

In so many ways….

Soil Enrichment – Leaf mulch returns nutrients back to the soil. Your lawn and gardens will require less fertilizer and other additives.

Water Conservation – Leaf mulch helps retain moisture in soils. When soil is covered with leaf mulch, the mulch lowers the soil’s exposure to sun and wind which reduces evaporation.

Save Money – By managing your leaves on site, you eliminate the costs of haulage and fuel to landfill, making you a more responsible earth inhabitant.

Insulation – Mulch acts like an insulating barrier from the heat in the summer, from the cold in the winter and from the wind all year round. Mulch prevents compaction and erosion of soils from wind and rain.

Weed Control- Leaf mulch can help prevent the growth of weeds. Add a thick layer (2 to 3 inches) to gardens to reduce the need for herbicides.”

If you live in DC, please don’t bag your leaves and encourage DPW to take out the leaves of bags and compost them, instead of putting them into the landfill.

I think the Daily Dump site sums it up really well below.  The site focuses on leaf composting in India, but it is relevant for cities all over the world.

“Nature gives us a gift and we treat it badly……. Lets stop.

When a tree sheds its leaves, we must remember that it is giving us a gift. The gift of nutrients that you can use to make more life grow.

Instead the municipal corporation, the waste contractor and the sophisticated urban home owner want dried leaves removed from their streets and public spaces. They see this as a waste, a nuisance and a burden. It’s time to wake up. Cities abroad now ban leaf litter on trucks to landfills. They want people to use dried leaves as they are supposed to be used, as mulch, compost and soil amendment.

Cities are running out of landfill sites, so filling them up with dried leaves is a very costly mistake. Most Indian cities have sweepers from the corporation instructed to collect dried leaves and dump them into the truck with all other kinds of waste, plastic, glass, food etc. This is such a short sighted strategy. Leaf litter needs to be treated with much more respect.

Stop sending leaves to the landfill. Stop asking people to sweep them and burn them. Stop wasting this gift!”

November 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm 5 comments

Purify Your Tap Water


During the D.C. Environmental Film Festival I saw a documentary called Poisoned Waters that talked about the quality of D.C. tap water.  Not to my surprise, it’s terrible!  I was not very happy with the way the pitcher and faucet filters were working either.  I decided to look for an alternative because I didn’t want to buy bottled water, which often times is the same quality as tap water and also contributes to plastic waste.

I purchased the 4 gallon  Zen Water Filter Purifier through Amazon for $49 and I am so happy with the way the water tastes.  I would like to test the water and compare it to the water from the faucet filter I was using and regular tap water to get a more scientific assessment of the quality, but for now I am happy that at least it’s better than what I was drinking before.

Click here to check out the Zen Water Filter Purifier.

April 24, 2010 at 6:13 am Leave a comment

May 7-9: Solar & Wind Expo

Click here for more information.


April 24, 2010 at 5:54 am Leave a comment

Getting Started With Solar

We had a great meeting with Anya Schoolman of the Mount Pleasant Solar Co-op on Sunday, April 18th.  She went over an excellent handout that covered how to get started with solar.

Next Steps:
1. Join the Petworth Green Co-op group
2. Create a planning committee
3. Participate in upcoming hearing

April 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm Leave a comment


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