We have had an extraordinarily colorful fall. The eye candy hanging up in the trees are falling as I type and will soon leave (verb) the deciduous trees bare with leaves (noun) covering the ground. With some attention from you, those leaves will stay away from the street, curb, storm drain and landfill. There are soo many reasons to leave or relocate our leaves and never ever burn them.
They are not "waste" and as such ought not be treated in a deleterious manner. Did you know that in our very own Jackson County we have a leaf exchange program? They offer a terrific networking service to rescue unwanted leaves and match them up with people who want to provide a better home. It's not unlike our wonderful Jackson County Animal Shelter, but for leaves.
This simple and effective program has been serving the Rogue Valley for close to a decade. If you want to add your name to their list of about 100 people that want to donate or take leaves, contact Jackson County Air Quality at 541-774-7835.
So, one reason not to "trash" your leaves is that there are people who want them. A second reason is that burning leaves pollutes our air and releases undesirable particulates into the air we breathe. The city of Ashland has in its municipal code restrictions on burning. A permit is required to pollute our air by burning, but it is limited to noxious weeds and fuels reduction only. Ideally, the leaves would stay on site and provide nutrients right where they land, in a home compost system, planting bed or as mulch.
Extra leaves can be easily corraled into an open (no cover needed) wire enclosure. The leaves break down over the winter and could become available in a few months for mulching or planting. If you have an electric leaf mulching vacuum you are ahead of the game. These devices shred the leaves as they are being sucked up and this process accelerates decomposition.
Some residents have been misinformed and think that blowing their leaves into the street or along the curb is permissible. It's true that the city's street cleaner goes down many Ashland streets and picks up "trash." The program is geared toward picking up actual trash. When these leaves get discarded into the street, they are not composted. They are transported to the landfill with the other material collected along the curb.
The other impact of leaves left to fend for themselves in the street is that they pile up and when it rains the leaves are pushed down the street. They cluster at the storm drain, get clogged up and flood the street. This is costly for the city and is paid for by its residents. There are better ways to use our limited resources and better ways to treat our abundance of leaves.
Recology Ashland (recologyashland.com) offers some options with a couple of free leaf drops days in Ashland and Talent, pre-paid leaf bags for curbside pickup and also a year-round yard debris cart.
It may have surprised you to learn that there are several options available for leaf abundance. The hope is that with all of these choices, there will be at least one that fits your needs. Keeping leaves out of the storm drain and diverted where they can make new soil is a "best practices" opportunity waiting for you to make it happen.
You may have a neighbor who would jump for joy to offer a new home for your leaves.
If all else fails, call the Jackson County Leaf exchange and add your name to the list. One neighbor's discard is another's treasure.
—Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a decade. You may reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.