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Question of the Week: Do you compost yard waste and why?

2008 September 22

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Fall is upon us: time to take out those rakes! As you prepare for cooler temperatures, have you thought about what to do with all those leaves, old plants, and other debris?

Do you compost yard waste and why?.

En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

El otoño se avecina. ¡Ha llegado el momento de sacar los rastrillos! A medida que se prepara para las temperaturas más frescas, ¿ha pensado en qué hacer con la hojarasca, las plantas viejas y otros escombros del jardín?

¿Usted hace compostaje y por qué?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

50 Responses leave one →
  1. dhgatsby permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Yes, I compost yard waste. I have two compost piles in my backyard. We compost most leaves, grass clippings, dead flowers and plants, all kitchen waste suitable for composting, and tree branches.

    I try to keep whatever we can out of the landfill. I break up twigs and small branches and put them in one pile along with weathered mulch and weeds/grass.

    We use it to enrich our plants and flowers and garden boxes.
    David Gannon
    Denver, CO

  2. Beth Braun permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Yes, we have 2 vegetable gardens and we compost all leaves, etc. into both of them throughout the year, not only in the fall.

  3. Frank permalink
    September 22, 2008

    I use a mulching (electric) lawn mower and leave the cuttings where they are. The mulching mower doesn’t really leave behind any cuttings to rake, even if I wanted to; it cuts them so finely. And not only do I never rake cut grass, I also don’t rake my leaves. I mow over them instead, and let them also mulch into the lawn. It works really well.

    …Unlike the slumlords who own the little building next door. Every other week those idiots come by with their gasoline-chugging mower to cut the grass (and in the fall, rake the leaves). Then they spend another hour sealing it all up in tight, opaque plastic, instead of just letting the cuttings naturally fertilize the land. What a waste of energy, time, and resources.

  4. Michelle permalink
    September 22, 2008

    I started recycling all paper, like cereal boxes and most anything else, flyers from my kids school, etc.

  5. Michelle permalink
    September 22, 2008

    I just let the wastes lie and burn the stick debris as I am in the country. I cannot imagine bagging it and putting in the landfill…

  6. john permalink
    September 22, 2008

    No, but I cut my mowing in half (just say no), and leave the mowing clippings where they lie. I don’t rake my leaves, just leave em be.

    “nicely” landscaped yards are primarily an artifact of the advances in mowing (and disposal) techology.

  7. seagul permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Yes, My community has yard waste pick-up services as part of the garbage service. The materials are shipped to a local composting company which shreds, composts and resales the materials. They have recently started taking food waste (bones and all) and dirty paper products like napkins, fastfood bags (paper only) and pizza boxes. When I started composting food waste, I was ammazed at how much there was. I as also amazed at the fruit fly infestation. Composting food waste only work if it is taken out every day or two. It is also best to cover the food waste with yard waste to keep the flies at bay in the yard waste cart.
    I have considered my own compost pile, but have refrained from throwing food waste in because of rodent issues.

  8. Utah Chris permalink
    September 22, 2008

    No. We don’t compost because it will irritate the neighbors and our trash collection takes the green waste with them. Our neighborhood association specifically has rules against compost piles. Not sure why.

  9. Jim Seidel permalink
    September 22, 2008

    I compost all leaves and plants from the garden plus kitchen waste. If I can I try to get my neighbor’s leaves that are piled in the street before the town can vacuum them up. When the grass gets cut it is done with a mulching mower and left on the lawn. For a small fee the county where I live had a program to teach people how to compost in their yard and supplied a composter for the yard as well. I still use the composter but I keep two compost piles as well. I put 20 – 25 wheelbarrow loads of compost on my vegetable and flower gardens every year plus I bring some to work for the planting beds here. Now if I could keep the deer, groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks from eating everything I plant I would be one happy gardener.

  10. Sharon permalink
    September 22, 2008

    My husband does compost for his gardens. He has vegetable, flower, and palm gardens. One reason he composts is because it’s cheap and because he knows exactly WHAT he is putting on his vegetables.

  11. Scott permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Yes, we compost grass clipping (mulching mower), some yard debris, but have yet to get into composting kitchen and table scraps.

    We are looking for an affordable way to compost table scraps without odor or attraction of additional wildlife while being able to use the nutrient-rich result for the yard.

    Any suggestions?

  12. Hayduke permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Like many of the other posters, I have a mulching mower and leave my grass clippings on my yard. Leaves get mowed and collected in my mower’s bag and dumped on planting beds for winter protection and soil enrichment. Waste from the vegetable and flower gardens go into one of two composters as do kitchen scraps. I have got the kids into it now and they give us grief if they catch us putting a banana peel in the garbage rather than the compost bucket.

    I compost because I control the resultant compost product. I also contain and limit the impact that I have from the waste that I generate. Rather than consolidate it and trasport it elsewhere, I maintain the materials and process them onsite. In turn, reducing my environmental impact.

  13. Linda permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Yes! After several failed attempts at “hot composting” (not enough energy to turn the piles as often as they needed), I’ve turned to cold composting in very simple wire bins. Thus far, we’ve managed to reduce two 4-foot high bins of yard waste into compost to help revitalize our yard and return nutrients leached away during decades of cotton farming.

    We’ve used a mulching mower blade for years, which means few grass clippings for the bins, but all vegetable scraps, coffee grounds (from work and home), spent tea bags, egg shells, and all fallen leaves, sticks, and plant trimmings get added to them; I don’t seem to lack for “green” stuff for the bins.

    I’ve found that collecting compostables in a sturdy plastic container with a tight lid (like the plastic coffee cans) helps to eliminate pest problems in the house, even if the container isn’t emptied every day. These containers are sturdy enough to hold quite a lot, but still light and easy to handle even when filled. Plus, that’s one more thing that won’t wind up in the landfill.

  14. Bill S. permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Yes. We mix leaves with food scraps and use the compost that results in planting and restoring areas that erode in our yards. We do not have a big property, but some big trees hover it, and what falls in one autumn will usually last the year.

    I note also that in the autumn towering mounds of fallen leaves appear in the streets for pickup by the town. Usually these leaves are accumulated by landscaping contractors who use leaf blowers. Leaf blowers are in my mind one of the despicable inventions of modern society. They create two kinds of pollutants—air pollution and truly horrendous noise pollution. I think the only justification for their use is by people who are physically unable to use a rake. Otherwise, in my opinion, they should be outlawed.

  15. Lisa permalink
    September 22, 2008

    I rent and mowers and blowers fly through the yard every week so I don’t have room for a garden or organic yard matter to compost. But if I did I would use a separate wire bin for those. No turning.

    But I DO compost my food waste in a food digester. That’s technical compost talk for a Rubbermade-type bin or 5 gallon bucket with the bottom cut out, that sits on the ground. Food goes in. Lid goes on (weight it if you need to keep big critters out.) Worms and microorganisms come up through the soil and do all the hard work. The bin keeps the odors in.

    Throw it on the ground, let it rot. Mother nature took millions of years to come up with that system and it works great. ;)

  16. Lisa permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Oh yeah, WHY I compost. Because it is part of the good way to live good.

  17. Paul permalink
    September 22, 2008

    Kitchen waste I compost in my back yard. Grass clippings I “mulch” right back into the lawn. Tree limbs that blow down during storms go in the back of the back yard, where the squirrels seem to enjoy using them as a park bench. Autumn leaves I pile up on the curb as part of the town’s recycling program, where a large vaccuum truck picks them up.

  18. Regina D permalink
    September 22, 2008

    We compost all yard waste and kitchen scraps. We built a composting area next to the garden. The finished compost is added to the garden each spring and fall when we plant new crops.

    Our city charges $2 per trashcan placed at the curb and $1 per trashcan of yard waste. This is an added incentive to compost.

  19. Liu Yanming permalink
    September 22, 2008

    I do not compost because I have not a yard.In China ,most people have not room to compost in spite of we have the opioin of envirement.

  20. Mary in Pennsylvania permalink
    September 23, 2008

    Yes we mulch our clippings and leaves. I especially like to pile leaves for mulch on my blueberry bushes. We have piles of brush to provide home for the rabbits too.

  21. Gillian permalink
    September 23, 2008

    Absolutely! All veggie table scraps and eggshells go into the composter, along with yard waste. We have found that cut flower stems do not decompose easily, unfortunately. Recently, we have stopped bagging the grass cuttings and allow them to stay on the lawn, or we add them to the compost. I estimate that composting reduces our trash volume by at least 1/3. Plus, I get beautiful natural soil to add to flower beds! My next purchase is rain barrels to catch rain water to use on plants/grass/car washing.

  22. Diana B. permalink
    September 23, 2008

    I started with one and now have two compost bins which get all the kitchen scraps (vegetarian household) and a lot of yard refuse, even though I have an electric mulching mower (big trees on a small lot). Composting is the smart thing to do. Definitely a win-win for me and the city. I get sweet fresh smelling compost to enrich my garden and the city gets less garbage for the landfill. Between the composting and the city’s recycling program, our household generates very little trash destined for the landfill.

  23. Andrea permalink
    September 23, 2008

    I do compost, although this year I haven’t done much b/c my composter is getting full – I bought one of those black behive-looking ones from my town’s public works dept. I want to screen out the larger debris as I empty it from the bottom. I bought the screening (1/2-inch) and now just need to make a rough frame for it. I can’t have open compost b/c of skunks and my dogs!

    For mowing, I don’t have a mulching mower (that I know of), but I leave most of the grass where it is. If it’s particularly abundant, I put a layer (either green or brown) in the compost pile.

    For leaves, I mow over most, put some in the composter, but end up bagging much of the rest and taking to the town “dump” where they create huge compost piles out of the leaves. Some (about 1/4) I leave lie. I can’t leave them all b/c they will kill the grass in the spring.

  24. Will permalink
    September 23, 2008

    I compost yard waste because I believe it’s the most effective way of keeping rocket fuel out of the water supply. Since the EPA has just refused to set a safe limit on the amount of rocket fuel that can be present in drinking water, I feel it’s up to us individual citizens to do what we can to keep the levels down.

    Otherwise the rocket fuel will probably damage our unborn babies.

  25. Shelley permalink
    September 23, 2008

    I compost vegetable table and kitchen scraps in four worm beds I keep in my office (I’m also a telecommuter). The worm casings, which are expensive to purchase, are cheap and easy to produce at home and are a great vegetable garden fertilizer. I don’t notice any smell.

    I do not put onions in there — that would smell — onion scraps go to the yard compost pile. There is no reason vegetable scraps from any source — kitchen, table or garden — should smell worse than grass clippings (aka “green manure”) on an outdoor compost pile.

  26. Brian R permalink
    September 23, 2008

    I don’t compost, but I don’t really make a lot of food waste. Total trash is down to half a kitchen bag a week. Recycle paper, steel, aluminum, and cardboard. By limiting food quanties purchased to what you can reasonalby eat, along with leftover nights, we really don’t make much in the way of food scraps. Citrus rinds and banana peels, coffee grounds go to the garden directly, or to clean the garbage disposal.

    As far as yard waste, like others have said, mulch the clippings and leaves back into the grass. Even with many huge trees, I can still easily mulch up the fall leaves into the lawn so you can’t even see the resulting pieces. Tree limbs go back into the woods, where they naturally decompose and help sustain the wildlife there.

    I really don’t get the need people have to rake, blow, and bag many, many bags of leaves every fall weekend. I also don’t understand the American compulsion to buy too much food and throw it out, or build an elaborate compost bin for it. Just eat it, or don’t buy it in the first place.

  27. Utah M permalink
    September 23, 2008

    In our rural town, NOTHING is seperated or prepared for renewal. The dump in the county is nothing more than a place where trash is covered up, no matter if it’s green, bio-degradable, or not.

    I believe that GREEN solutions will gain more emphasis in the next decade, but only if we use consistent messaging from agencies like this one.

  28. Gordon permalink
    September 23, 2008

    I have a bin and compost some but not nearly all the yard waste I create. I put most out for weekly pickup by the City. Its then taken for commercial composting.

  29. Lisa permalink
    September 24, 2008

    We have a compost bin that I use for kitchen stuff and yard waste. It is a pain to turn though. One of that tumbling barrel ones would be nice. We also have a pile for when the bin is overflowing. This summer was especially cool in Alaska and the bin didn’t go down very fast.

  30. Kalo permalink
    September 24, 2008

    Yes, since we moved from the apartment to the country, we have a lot of yard waste and yard work to do than we used to. The first day, we tried burning, like everyone else but it was hot,stinky, time consuming and not good for the environment. Luckily, we discovered a compost facility down the road from our subdivision and told our neighbors about it to try to subtly coax them to not burn anymore. So now, we load up the jeep with our bags of yard waste and haul it all down the street to be made into compost. When it comes to grass clippings, we just pile them along the fence with our plants.

  31. Nina permalink
    September 24, 2008

    Absolutely! I mix it with kitchen waste, horse and buffalo manure, sometimes chicken, and away we go…the vegetable garden and trees love it!

  32. Tom Nelson permalink
    September 25, 2008

    Yes, yard waste gets composted.
    Grass trimmings and such stay on the ground to work into the soil. Kitchen wastes goes into the large compost bucket (a garbage can with the bottom cut off and buried 1.5 ft in the ground) in the garden. Old plants and such go in the uncovered compost and large branches get chipped and used as cover in the garden. Anything bigger than that I use in the smoker.

  33. Jean permalink
    September 25, 2008

    I do the same as you, I mulch it, never rake the yard, never have clumps of grass, I never have much garbage as it stays on my property and I have lots of time by not having to spend it in my yard. All my coffee grounds, tea, goes on flowers and grass also, My lawn is so natural, it attracts beautiful northern bluebirds and chickadees, I do not use poison of any kind, if there is a weed then it is yanked out by root using my screwdriver, I find they never come back. BUT, my neighbor, like yours’, sprays poison everywhere, he used one on the fenceline that killed mine and his and I was upset because now I have to reseed with my straight KY bluegrass 99.9% weed free seed where he killed it, he has no respect for life of any kind, sprayed it in my face accidentally once, never apologized, but people like that don’t care, he has leukemia and I have often wondered, how much did that chemical habit contribute to that disease, I think a lot. I would love to live in the country and give everthing back to nature but even in the city, I still perform the same functions by mulching and leaving it on my grass, not only does it create moisture as if watering, it produces a good strong root system and keeps the weeds away by acting like a linen cloth over the grass.

  34. Jay Warner permalink
    September 27, 2008

    Do I compost? Yes, of course. I have room enough to put everything into it – household garbage, excess grass, weeds, etc. Every 2 years what is left at the bottom goes onto the garden. If I turned it and cared for it, I could probably use it faster, but this is a low-energy way to get organic matter back onto the garden.

  35. Adam permalink
    September 27, 2008

    Other than leaving the clippings on the lawn, no. I live in Southern California where the compost dries out quickly in the low humidity. It will dry rot, but the process takes a long time. If we have a dry winter, it may take over a year. If I want to speed things up, I have to water the compost every day during the summer or buy an enclosed compost bin. It’s too much hassle and adds to the water bill. I just put it in the City’s greenwaste barrel and put it out when I accumulate enough.

  36. Mary Rowlands permalink
    September 28, 2008

    Pay attention to the weeds in your yard. Everything has a story to tell you if you know what they are saying.
    Years ago, Rodale Organic Gardening explained what the presence of many weeds indicated and the corrective measures needed.

  37. brewjo1973 permalink
    September 30, 2008

    When we first bough our house (just south of Portland Oregon) and I was using a push mower on 3/4 acre, I would compost my grass clipping and leaves throughout the season. Switching over to the riding mower I have also switched to a mulching system for most of the items I used to compost. I have a small area along the northern edge of my property with 6-8 large trees and I let the leaves fall and lie there so as not to interfer with the natural process. I still use my compost bin but the main things that go into it are flowers with their potting soil and spent coffee grounds; which I understand the worms love.

  38. Yard Spice permalink
    September 30, 2008

    I compost in many ways. My Home, My office and my equipment yard.
    At home I compost for the garden and the flowes around the house. Plus I use it to make organic teas. I started a vermiculture this year too. Trying to get our waste close to zero.

    At the office, we compost our paper, and scrap or lef over lunches. We dp a small bin, but the trick is using red worms.

    In the equipment yard, that is where the black gold is! We compost all year long from our lawn customer yards, and we sell it back to them in the spring for gardens and top dressing lawns.

    We are very commited to recycle and reuse and trying to teach and lead other companies to do the same.

  39. Tyme permalink
    October 5, 2008

    Maybe you could plant a small garden just for them, as far away from your kitchen garden as possible. At least that is my plan, when I have my little slice of country life.

    (And, yes, I compost. Collect rainwater in rain barrels, recycle, and consume very little in general.)

  40. David in South Jersey permalink
    November 5, 2008

    My town collects yard waste and composts it at a local facility for reuse. My town also switched to single-stream recycling which increased an already high recylcing rate. My family also composts most food waste in an area behind our storage shed in our back yard. With all this, not much is left for the landfill!

  41. Joshua Slocum permalink
    November 24, 2008

    I compost for a number of reasons… including: dealing with yard waste, reducing garbage fees from kitchen waste, stress alleviation and natural meditation, and for making compost tea to put on my dwarf fruit trees. I discuss all this at the dwarffruittrees.org blog….

    http://www.dwarffruittrees.org/category/composting-for-dwarf-fruit-trees

    http://www.dwarffruittrees.org/dwarf-fruit-trees/dwarf-fruit-trees-secret-passkey-to-lower-stress

    and here

    http://www.dwarffruittrees.org/composting-for-dwarf-fruit-trees/the-master-key-to-successful-composting

  42. mark permalink
    April 19, 2009

    we are changing to green. we are new at composting.we dont hnow what things we can put in it.

  43. JStatson permalink
    December 16, 2009

    I started composting recently and was inspired by the city of San Francisco. Almost every where you go in SF you are starting to see composting bins available.

    I think it’s a great, safe, and effective way to help take care of out environment. Other cities need to make an effort for composting to grow and become the norm

  44. Dan Jones permalink
    July 22, 2010

    I definitely compost my yard waste. It’s going to be piled up in my yard either way, so why not decompose it using a fast method and get great compost out of it?

    I compost my leaves and grass clippings as well as any (dead) plants I get rid of.

    Something for everyone to note…if you use weed killers or other chemical treatments, you shouldn’t compost your lawn waste. These chemicals end up in the compost and can harm your plants. I talk about this over at my site about my wormery.

  45. rabbi permalink
    September 23, 2010

    Hi, Thanks such a great information’s really like to read this topic. This is really a well written article about a great project! It’s very useful…

  46. Den Ross permalink
    October 19, 2010

    Many manufacturers have tried to compete their products with Rubbermaid Storage Shed and no one ever passed its durability.

  47. Data Shredding Services permalink
    December 8, 2010

    Consumer awareness should also be come widespread so that more people will know how to handle their used paper and plastic items and not pose harm to the environment. If we will be successful in managing our resources and waste, future generations will be given the opportunity to experience nature that way we still do today. As a preventive measure, we can also opt to have our personal records such as credit card billings and other kinds of mail shredded before disposing them or using them as packaging filling.

  48. Compost Bins permalink
    June 14, 2011

    Thanks for this post.

  49. http://thedailymeditation.com/ permalink
    March 4, 2013

    I compost for a number of reasons… including: dealing with yard waste, reducing garbage fees from kitchen waste, stress alleviation and natural meditation, and for making compost tea to put on my dwarf fruit trees.

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