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New York Says No to Burning Leaves




Like most gardeners, this time of year I drive slow when passing certain houses, which are known sources of clean bagged leaves. I can’t get enough leaves for composting and mulching, so why would anyone want to burn them? I know the answer – some folks just plain like to do it – but that doesn’t justify the air pollution load leaf burning releases into the atmosphere. The state of New York agrees! This month, New York

joined a growing list of states where burning leaves is a crime. Communities like Muskegon County, MI, banned leaf burning back in 1973. Delaware and several other states followed suit in the mid-1990’s.

Fewer leaves being burned should play out as more being composted, but where will they rot? Recession-related budget cuts have reduced or eliminated leaf composting programs from Portland, OR to Brunswick, OH. Cities like Roanoke, VA will pick up only bagged leaves this year, with biodegradable paper leaf bags preferred. In Woodbridge, NJ, you can get paper leaf bags for free.

In some areas, the cost of collecting leaves with a vacuum truck runs as high as $100 per household, which makes me think I may be in the wrong business. Then again, in a society where money seems to talk loudest, maybe a big price tag on leaf collection is what it will take to get more people composting. When the city of Niagara Falls, ON weighed the financial costs vs. environmental benefits of composting yard waste, they came up with a negative $13.53 per ton. If everyone composted their leaves, those benefits would run even higher.

But back to burn bans, which are making the air easier to breathe in Moline, IL and thousands of other towns this fall. Leaf burning is a local issue that impacts people on a neighborhood level. I’m all for a no-leaf-burn nation, but then I’m a collector with my own interests at stake. Where do you stand?

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant is coauthor of The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, which recently won a Silver Award of Achievement in writing from the Garden Writers Association.