What Happens to all Those Leaves?

September 29, 2010

With the warm temperatures sticking around for much of the northeast during these first couple of weeks of the fall season you may not have noticed that autumn has arrived. Then again, one look outside tells us that the seasons are indeed changing, bringing us to that time of year when New England showcases its aesthetic beauty. Our area in particular is home to some of the nation’s most picturesque fall colors. Foliage spotters from all over flock to the region to view the scenery this time of year produces.

While we are still a couple weeks away from the peak of the fall foliage season, it has not stopped trees from beginning to shed some of their leaves. That means many of us have begun the annual housekeeping chore of removing leaves from our lawns, driveways and gutters. But have you ever wondered what happens to all those leaves once they are disposed?

When it comes to the removal of leaves each town is different. Some towns offer curbside leaf pickup, while others require you to drop them off at a local landfill or transfer facility. Whatever the case, the one thing that is a constant is that leaves are a state mandated recyclable. That means what was once a common practice of getting rid of leaves by burning them is no longer allowed in Connecticut.

Today, most towns turn discarded leaves into compost. The Town of Avon offers free leaf compost and wood chips to town residents. This process of turning leaves into compost is a relatively simple yet – in many cases – time consuming process. According to Avon Landfill Superintendent Robert Martin, depending on the equipment it can take up to three years. What happens is that discarded leaves are placed in an area and are turned over by a loader four times a year. The turning of the leaves along with air and water add to the decomposition. The objective is to keep the temperature between 110 and 130 degrees – too cool or too hot and the process is not as effective.

Some larger municipalities may be able to speed up the composting process by using different equipment that breaks up the leaves and allows air and moisture to penetrate them more quickly. Whereas smaller towns may have their foliage sent to surrounding towns that can handle larger scale composting.

The compost that is derived from leaves can have many benefits when it comes to gardening and landscape due to the many essential nutrients it provides to plants and soil. In addition, recycling these leaves is good for the environment because it acts as a natural fertilizer without the chemicals.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that is has focused its efforts in recent years on establishing large-scale leaf composting facilities, promoting home composting and grass-recycling. They have sponsored pilot programs to compost organics at schools and other institutions. These programs have helped keep food scraps, yard trimmings and grass out of the waste stream, reduce waste handling and disposal costs, return valuable nutrients to the soil, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, thereby decreasing non-point source pollution.

Maybe it has never even crossed your mind, but if you’ve ever wondered what happens to the leaves once they are picked up or disposed of, there is a chance that someday those same leaves may end up back in on your property as compost, providing an all-natural benefit in an environmentally safe manner. Simply speaking, turning fall foliage – one of New England’s best features – into an even greater asset for your yard.