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a green-tined rake gathers fallen leaves in a yard

Rethinking yard waste disposal

By RANDALL PENN, MINDY HANAK, and WILMA HOLLEY
UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County

One topic we receive a number of questions on is yard waste collection. That’s never been more true than recently, with yard waste pickup in Sarasota County temporarily suspended due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Typically, yard debris is picked up curbside or can be dropped off at the landfill. This material is then separated, chipped, and made available as a mulch material. While some material—approximately 7,000 tons per year—does make it into the landfill, that amount makes up less than 10 percent of the overall landfill percentage annually.

But with the recent announcement that curbside pickup has been suspended, residents are looking for alternative solutions. Occasionally in the state of Florida, we do have interruptions of collection services; this is primarily due to a hurricane or major storm-type event. Regardless of potential changes and delays, we would like to highlight a few traditional (and creative) ways to rethink your yard waste disposal.

Composting

As an instructor of our “Let’s Make Some Black Gold” composting courses, I will always point to the benefits of reducing food waste by composting. The main bulk of a composting bin are the “browns”. Your yard material is what composters want! Oak leaves and branches, palm fronds, and even grass clipping can be chipped up and added to a compost bin. If you are not a composter, your neighbors may be. They may need some excess materials.

Grass-cycling

If you have a lawn, you can reduce the amount of waste that you’re generating by recycling grass clippings in place. Just “mow and go.” Grass clippings are 90 percent water and decompose quickly, releasing nutrients for your lawn. In fact, if you let your grass clippings decompose on your lawn, the nitrogen added to the soil equals 1-2 fertilizer applications per year. That’s like getting free fertilizer. Grass-cycling also means less work for you: no shopping for bags, no bagging, no hauling bags to the street (or to the compost bin), less fertilizer purchased and applied, and less garbage going to the landfill

Art projects

Depending on the yard waste, you can potentially use it as a DIY trellis and art projects.  There are countless examples of art from palm boots, seed pods, and vine material that people use to sell at the farmers markets. Why not test out your skills during the at home time? It’s also a great project to get kids involved with.

UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County courses

Right plant, right place

If doing a gardening project -take time to make sure it’s the right plant for the right place as it prevents need of too much pruning which creates the waste in the first place. Plants improperly placed usually need more pruning to control for size or to remove diseased limbs. Don’t over-prune, or over-clear, what you have, and healthy leaves breaking down add organic matter back to the soil. Some fallen foliage can act as a weed suppressant.

Over-pruning

  • can create to disease and pest susceptibility
  • creates unnecessary waste while
  • reduces wildlife and bird habitat
  • that also leads to unnecessary waste, loss of shelter/food for wildlife/birds, creates susceptibility of disease/pest to the tree
  • over-pruning creates more need for fertilizer because they reduced it’s food supply from it’s foliage

For more information about yard waste disposal, visit our waste reduction and composting pages, or contact our office at 941-861-5000 or sarasota@ifas.ufl.edu.

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