Yard Waste: Recycle, Compost, or Dispose?

Yard Waste: Recycle, Compost, or Dispose?

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Possessing a yard often means dealing with yard waste occasionally. Organic waste such as leaves, grass cuttings, twigs, and similar materials can accumulate, causing unsightliness or even a fire risk. Fortunately, numerous solutions exist to convert your yard waste into something beneficial or attractive. We will delve into some excellent choices for managing your yard waste, ranging from composting to mulching and various crafting options. You'll be astounded at what you can create following some effective yard waste gathering!

What Exactly Is Yard Waste?

Yard waste refers to the organic materials that come from maintaining outdoor spaces like gardens, lawns, and other landscaped areas. These natural materials can pile up quickly, and knowing how to manage them is essential for keeping our outdoor spaces clean and healthy. 

Different Types of Yard Waste

Understanding the different types of yard waste is key to managing it effectively and sustainably. Additionally, for specific populations, such as seniors, services like free tree removal for seniors can play a vital role in assisting with larger yard waste challenges. Still, here is what you have to deal with: 

  • Grass Clippings: They are the most common yard waste that comes from regular lawn mowing. 
  • Leaves: Trees and shrubs naturally shed their leaves, especially in the fall.
  • Branches and Twigs: These often result from trimming, storm damage, or natural shedding by trees and shrubs.
  • Tree Trunks and Large Branches: These are typically the result of tree removal or significant pruning.
  • Floral Debris: This includes spent flowers and pruned materials from flowering plants and shrubs.
  • Weeds: These are unwanted plants that grow along with the desired ones.
  • Diseased Plants: These are plants that have been affected by pests or diseases.

How to Prepare Yard Waste for Landscape Use

As you prepare for the debris and leaf collection, here are some effective and eco-friendly ways to dispose of yard waste:

#1 Composting for a Greener Landscape

Composting is a natural process used to turn organic waste into a nutrient-rich substance suitable for boosting soil health. This method is both environmentally friendly and beneficial for gardens. 

By composting, you can reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills and lower your carbon footprint. You can also create a valuable fertilizer that will help your plants grow stronger and healthier. Composting is a great way to recycle, save money, and improve your garden's productivity.

Here are the steps in making a compost: 

  1. Find a dry, shady spot in your yard that is easily accessible year-round and designate it for the yard waste site.
  2. While a simple pile can work, it is better to use compost bins made of wood or plastic to help contain the compost and speed up the decomposition process. Make sure your bin or pile is large enough to maintain heat but small enough to turn. 
  3. Add grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, fresh leaves, dry leaves, twigs, paper, and straw.
  4. Avoid adding meat, bones, dairy products, diseased plants, and any inorganic materials; leave these for curbside pickup. If you want to transfer food scraps from your kitchen countertop compost container, ensure you only put usable solid waste. 
  5. Aerate the compost regularly by turning once a week to introduce air, which aids the decomposition process and prevents the pile from developing an unpleasant odor.
  6. Keep it moist like a wrung-out sponge but not soggy. Add water during dry spells to maintain this moisture level.
  7. Monitor its temperature and keep it warm. If the pile cools down, it may need more green waste or moisture.
  8. Once your compost has turned dark and has a soil-like texture and earthy smell, it’s ready to use. Spread it on your garden beds, mix it with potting soil, or use it as a natural fertilizer for your plants.

Typically, you do not need a permit to build a compost bin in your backyard. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your local municipality or homeowners or resident associations, as rules can vary, especially if it has a large diameter. 

#2 Mulching After Debris and Leaf Collection

Mulch serves as a protective barrier for the soil, made up of organic or inorganic materials. When using yard waste as mulch, you primarily deal with organic materials like leaves, grass clippings, and branches. These materials are not only beneficial for the soil but also for the environment, as they reduce the amount of yard waste and food scraps that go to landfills after the neighborhood trash collection day. 

How to Use Yard Waste for Mulching:

a) Leaves:

Gather fallen leaves and shred them using a mower. This shredded leaf mulch is excellent for garden beds and can also be used in vegetable gardens. For this, you need the best chipper shredder for composting yard waste.

Alternatively, you can brush them into a pile or use a leaf blower to bundle all of them quickly. Still, ensure you blow away from the sidewalk, curb, or neighboring property to avoid overspreading. Plus, the best leaf vacuum mulcher will make quick work of this task.

b) Grass Clippings:

After mowing, instead of discarding the clippings, you can use them as mulch. However, ensure the grass isn’t treated with pesticides or herbicides. Also, let them dry out a bit before using, as fresh clippings can form a mat and prevent water from penetrating. So do not put them in plastic bags or any bag, but have a drop-off site at a corner to avoid windy messes.

c) Branches and Twigs:

Larger branches can be chipped or shredded to produce wood chips. These are great for paths or around trees and shrubs. Still, these may weigh a ton, so be careful when you haul them around your yard. 

Best Practices for Mulching:

  • Thickness: For most organic materials, a 2 to 4-inch layer of mulch is ideal. If you’re using grass clippings, a thinner layer of about 1 inch is sufficient.
  • Placement: When you place yard waste, ensure it doesn’t directly touch the stems of plants or trunks of trees. Leaving a small gap prevents moisture build-up, which can lead to rot or disease.
  • Refresh and Replace: Over time, organic mulch will break down and decompose, so don't just dump it and forget. Periodically check the thickness and refresh or replace as needed.

#3 Recycle Grass: Letting Grass Clippings Benefit Your Lawn

Grasscycling is a sustainable and effortless approach to dealing with grass clippings. Instead of collecting them in yard waste bags and disposing of them after mowing, you simply leave the clippings on the lawn. These clippings then decompose and return essential nutrients back to the soil, acting as a natural fertilizer.

How to Grasscycle Effectively:

  • Mow When Dry: For best results, mow your lawn when the grass is dry. Wet grass can clump together and not distribute evenly.
  • Regular Mowing: Mow regularly, but ensure you’re only removing the top third of the grass blade at any one time. This helps the clippings decompose faster and reduces the risk of them smothering the lawn.
  • Use the Right Mower: While standard mowers can be used for grasscycling, mulching mowers are designed specifically to cut grass clippings into smaller pieces. We have an extensive guide on the best mulching lawn mower guide to help you out!

#4 Hiring Professionals for Large Yard Cleanup

For significant yard projects or when dealing with excessive amounts of yard waste, personal management can be challenging. That's when a junk removal company can help you. 

These companies have the equipment and manpower to handle large amounts of waste quickly. Some yard waste, like large branches or tree stumps, can be hazardous to handle without proper equipment. Professional companies can manage these safely. They're knowledgeable about waste disposal regulations and can ensure your yard waste is dealt with in an environmentally friendly manner.

Be Eco-Smart in Dealing with Your Yard Waste

In today's eco-conscious world, sustainable landscaping has emerged as a key practice to combine our desire for aesthetic outdoor spaces with the need for environmental conservation. To achieve this goal, we have to maximize the utility of every element in the landscape, including yard waste. The best place to begin the practice is by learning proper waste management. 

Proper yard waste management is essential for maintaining clean and healthy outdoor spaces while promoting sustainability. By adopting these practices, we can contribute to a greener and more eco-friendly landscape, benefiting both our outdoor spaces and the environment.


You've learned some great tips on what to do with your yard waste, from composting to mulching. Now, you can turn your lawn clippings, leaves, branches, and other organic materials into valuable resources for your garden. Whether you need to get rid of a large limb or a pile of sod, you have options that are eco-friendly and beneficial for your plants. Don't let your yard waste go to waste - use it to create a beautiful and healthy landscape!

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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