How to Reduce Yard Waste

Low-Maintenance Landscaping

Yard waste is something most homeowners have to deal with, and far too many send it to the landfill without giving much thought to alternative solutions.

Some are not aware of issues associated with sending green waste to landfills, and others are not aware that there are other options.

Each ton of leaves, branches, lawn clippings and other yard waste that ends up in landfills takes up more than three cubic yards of space.

This leads to landfills reaching maximum capacity faster and increases the need for more landfills in the future.

By keeping yard waste out of landfills as much as possible, we can extend the length of time each landfill can be actively used and can reduce the overall need for landfill space.

There are, of course, other benefits we can enjoy by reducing our yard waste, which can include reducing the time required to maintain our yards, saving money, and keeping desirable plants healthy and happy with nutrient-rich soil.


Understanding Curbside Yard Waste Collection


Municipalities across the country are recognizing the need for curbside yard waste pickup, and many offer regular collection alongside garbage and recyclables.

Some cities are going even farther to establish recycling programs for green waste, which is collected and then turned into compost for use on municipal properties or made available to residents in the area.

More than 200,000 San Diego residents living within the city limits have access to an established yard waste recycling program, and all residents within the city have access to free compost and mulch made from collected yard waste.

To receive free compost or waste, residents can go to Miramar Greenery and self load up to two cubic yards at a time.

To participate in the city’s yard waste recycling program, some residents can rely on curbside pickup and others who do not live in neighborhoods offering pickup can take their recyclable green waste directly to Miramar Greenery.

If you live within the city limits, there is no charge for bringing recyclable green waste to the Greenery, as long as you generated the waste at home and it is coming from your primary residence.

Folks who do not live within the city limits can also bring green waste, lumber and dry wood to the Greenery and will receive a discounted rate for dumping their recyclable waste.

To determine how best you can participate in a program like this one and help keep yard waste out of the landfill, the first step is finding out if you live in an area where curbside yard waste collection is available.

If you live in the City of San Diego, you can find out this information by calling the Environmental Services Department at (858) 694-7000 or by visiting their website.

If you do not live within the City of San Diego, contact your local solid waste collection service provider to find out if there is a yard waste recycling program in your area or if separate yard waste collection is available.

In most cases, these programs will accept clean, recyclable yard trimmings, such as leaves, twigs, branches, shrubs, Christmas trees, untreated lumber and lawn clippings.

Here are some helpful resources for homeowners in the San Diego area to help you better understand what is and is not allowed for curbside collection or taking to Miramar Greenery:

The program offered through Miramar Greenery — and others like it around the country — are making a significant difference in helping homeowners discard yard trimmings in an eco-friendlier manner.

However, it is important to remember that recycling greens on this level requires water and energy, as well as transportation and machinery that contribute to pollution.

This is not to say that recycling is a bad thing; it is a very good thing that we should all be doing whenever possible.

What this does mean is that, just as with other types of waste that we recycle, it is better to first reduce as much as possible, and then recycle the rest.

Lawn Mower

How to Reduce Yard Waste


Here are six ways you can reduce yard waste, which can help lengthen the lives of landfills, save you time and money, and help you lower your overall impact on the environment.

1. Reduce the Size of Your Natural Grass Lawn

According to California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (aka: CalRecycle), yard waste is the largest component making up municipal waste in this state.

Of this, lawn trimmings — alone — are estimated to be about half of the total yard waste produced each year and, in some suburban areas where large lawns are common, it is an even higher percentage.

CalRecycle also reports that studies have shown that, on average, a California lawn produces between 300 and 400 hundred pounds of lawn clippings per every 1,000 square feet of lawn every year.

This aspect of the environmental impact of natural grass lawns is, of course, on top of the aspects of which we are already aware, such as water use, and chemicals in herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers that find their way in to the air, soil and water supply.

Proper turf management that keeps your lawn healthy, such as proper fertilization and irrigation, is a good step towards reducing waste produced by your lawn, but you can take an even bigger step by decreasing the size of your lawn — or removing it completely.

It is actually quite easy to reduce the size of a natural grass lawn without taking away from the overall visual appeal of your yard.

In fact, it is far more likely that it will enhance the look of your landscaping by adding paving stone walkways, patios, decks, plant beds and borders with native plants, and low-maintenance groundcovers, such as gravel, bark or mulch.

You can reduce the waste your lawn generates even more by removing it completely and replacing it with native plants or artificial turf, which will also help you conserve water and reduce the number of weeds you will need to pull and add to your yard waste bin.

2. Grasscycling and Mulching Lawn Mowers

An easy way to significantly reduce lawn trimmings is to simply leave grass clippings on the lawn, rather than collecting them and sending them to the landfill or putting them in your yard waste bin.

This is known as grasscycling and gives you the added benefit of providing nitrogen to your lawn and reducing the amount of water and fertilizer your lawn requires to stay green and healthy.

You can also invest in a mulching lawn mower, which will chop grass clippings, leaves and twigs into small pieces to promote faster decomposition.

You can leave the resulting mulch on your lawn or spread it around other desirable plants, shrubs or trees to put nutrients back in the soil, limit weed growth and help the soil more efficiently retain moisture.

Paving Stone Driveway

3. Find Your Plants, Trees and Materials New Homes

That whole one man’s trash is another man’s treasure thing applies to yard waste as well.

That palm tree that is blocking your view may have worn out its welcome at your house, but you can very likely place an ad on online community sites like Craigslist or Freecycle and have an interested party willing to come remove it the next day.

If you are willing to give away that palm tree or rose bushes or the tropical plants that you are replacing with environmentally-responsible succulents, you can probably find someone who is more than willing to take them off of your hands and, if you are lucky, they might even do the digging to remove them from your yard.

This is an easy way to keep these usable landscaping features or scrap wood from ending up in a landfill and a convenient way for you to save the time and money it would have taken to dig them up and haul them off.

In some cases, you may even be able to make a little money by listing unwanted plants and trees for sale on an online classifieds ad website.

4. Start a Backyard Compost Pile

Backyard composting is a great way to reduce waste overall, since you can mix kitchen scraps and paper products in with yard trimmings.

Not only does this allow you to decrease the amount of stuff you add to your garbage or yard waste bin, you also end up with nutrient-rich compost to spread in your vegetable garden or around desirable plants.

Items you can put in your compost pile or bin include:

    • Lawn clippings
    • Leaves
    • Dead plants and flowers
    • Twigs and small branches
    • Vegetables and fruit peels and scraps
    • Coffee grounds
    • Coffee filters
    • Tea bags
    • Egg shells
    • Shredded, non-glossy paper products (such as newspaper, junk mail or toilet paper rolls)

Items you should not put in your compost pile include:

    • Treated, stained or painted wood
    • Meat, fats or dairy products
    • Diseased plants
    • Dog or cat feces
    • Ashes


5. Grow Only What You Will Enjoy or Use

When trying to reduce yard waste, it is necessary to look at the bigger picture to make better choices and make everything you plant in your yard count.

For example, if your idea of the perfect way to start your day is to look at blooming flowers as you drink your morning coffee, consider just how many flowers are required to start your day off right.

Do you really need a yard full of high-maintenance rose bushes that all require deadheading and pruning on a regular basis, or would just two or three rose bushes do the job?

You should also take this into consideration when planting a vegetable garden.

Growing only as much as your family will eat or you can give away to friends will help you avoid fruits and vegetables going to waste and ending up in the trash or your yard waste bin.

6. Choose Slow-Growing and Low-Maintenance Plants

Succulents, native plants and slow-growing shrubs are excellent choices for homeowners looking for ways to reduce the waste their yard generates.

These plants require less pruning, which means they naturally produce less waste.

As an added bonus, this also means you will not have to spend as much time maintaining your landscaping and can lower your water bills, since these options require less water to thrive.


Your Turn…


What steps you have taken to reduce yard waste?


Photo Credits (in order of appearance): morgueFile, macroncasin; morgueFile, FidlerJan