Published on 08/02/96

No More Leaves Allowed in Landfill

The bags of leaves and grass clippings lining the driveway on trash pickup day will soon be handled differently.

As of Sept. 1, Georgia landfills will no longer accept leaves, grass clippings or tree trimmings, said Wayne McLaurin, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Communities are handling the new state ban on landscape waste in landfills in various ways. Yard trimmings will be picked up separately from regular garbage. In some places, it may cost more to dispose of yard wastes. Check with your trash company or city manager to find out proper disposal methods.

Banning these products should cause a great drop in landfill use. These natural by-products of lawns and landscapes account for up to 30 percent of the waste dumped in landfills.

"The average Georgia lawn produces 1,500 pounds of grass each year," McLaurin said. "We need to keep all this natural waste out of the landfill. You should handle as much as you can on your own property."

Recycling plant litter should just come naturally. Nature has always composted materials by dropping leaves at the bottom of trees and adding the nutrients back into the soil.

"We get in the way by raking and burning the leaves and pine straw," McLaurin said.

"You have many techniques available to recycle or dispose of yard wastes," he said. "Mulching is really composting in place. You're letting leaves and pine straw deteriorate right where they lay instead of putting them in a bin. It's a great way to take care of a lot of the leaves we'll be getting in the next few months.

"If you prefer the look of pine straw around your plants, put down about two inches of leaves and add pine straw over them," he said. "Vast amounts of leaves and pine straw can be used around shrubs and pine islands."

Composting is a natural and convenient way to recycle landscape wastes. It's also a low-cost way to produce rich humus you can add back to your soil, he said.

You can use almost any organic materials for composting. That includes grass clippings, leaves, flowers, annual weeds, twigs, chopped brush, old vegetable plants and straw. Don't compost diseased plants, weeds with seeds or invasive weeds like morning glory and nut sedge.

You can also compost kitchen peelings and coffee grounds. But don't add table scraps. They may attract animals.

A common concern is that compost piles smell bad.

"They don't smell if they have good ventilation," McLaurin said. "Odor-causing bacteria are killed by heat within the pile. If you add animal manures to the pile, you can expect some initial odor. But it will dissipate in one to two days."

A compost bin needs to be at least a cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet).

"Large piles break down faster than smaller piles," McLaurin said, "but they're also harder to manage."

Visit your county Extension Service agent for free brochures about grasscycling, mulching and composting.