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How to Dispose of Leaves the Bay-Friendly Way

When autumn arrives, hikers and bikers go the extra mile to find fall foliage. But it can be hard for homeowners to love fall leaves when they drop off of tree limbs and onto green lawns. And in a number of communities, the once-accepted methods of getting rid of leaves—chucking them into the trash can or lighting large piles on fire—are no longer allowed, due to limits on landfill space and concerns over human health.

So what is a watershed resident to do with autumn’s fallen leaves? Here are four tips to help you get rid of your leaves while reducing your impact on the Chesapeake Bay.

Mulch them

Leave the rake in the shed and the leaf-blower at the hardware store—mulching allows you to get rid of leaves without having to wrestle them into precarious piles first! Just run over fallen leaves with a lawn mower, mulching blade attached. The blade will cut the leaves into small pieces, which will settle undetected beneath the green canopy of your lawn. A long-term study of leaf-mulching confirmed the practice even benefits your backyard, as the leaves feed the underground microbes that benefit soil health.

Compost them

Fallen leaves are critical to composting. Leaves, twigs and other carbon-rich “brown” plant material can be added to existing compost piles to bring balance to nitrogen-rich lawn clippings, fruit and vegetable waste and other “green” plant material. Or, large piles of leaves can be composted on their own. If kept moist and periodically turned, the leaves will decompose and create a dark, crumbly compost that can enrich the soil in your garden.

Paper bag them

If putting fallen leaves to use in your lawn or garden just isn’t an option, then consider curbside collection. A number of local governments collect leaves each fall, whether they are raked in piles to the curb or placed in paper bags. Even garbage-collection services often offer yard waste pick-up, transporting leaves to municipal composting facilities to keep them out of landfills.

Don’t burn them

A lit match is a tempting solution to the leaf pile problem, but burning leaves can pollute the air and harm our health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the open burning of leaves puts particulate matter and hydrocarbons into the air. The former can increase your chances of respiratory infection, while the latter contains toxic and cancer-causing compounds.

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