A 2009 Penn State publication stated that yard waste (leaves, prunings, and grass clippings) accounted for nearly twenty percent of the residential waste in Cincinnati, Ohio. A University of Idaho publication stated, “Grass clipping typically comprise 10 to 20 percent of the solid waste collected by communities on a year-round basis. During the summer months, grass clippings can account for nearly half the weight of the waste collected in some communities.”
In 1997, Frank Ackerman wrote in his book Why Do We Recycle?, “At least 25 states have banned landfilling of some or all types of yard wastes. Many communities have three trucks collecting material from households on a regular basis: one for garbage, one for recyclables, and one for yard waste.” You probably have seen the three truck system at work in your own community.
Collection via truck is one of the single largest expenses when it comes to municipal solid waste, usually accounting for more than half the expense of dealing with solid waste. Even though cities that take the trouble to collect yard waste separately usually are routing that waste to a composting facility, it seems to me that it is a very expensive path, especially since there is an alternative that costs nothing.
As Ackerman pointed out in 1997, “Undoubtedly the simplest program for organic waste is what is often called “grasscycling.” Rather than bagging grass clippings and setting them out for collection, householders are encouraged to leave grass clippings on the lawn. This provides an excellent source of nutrients for the lawn, saves effort, and diverts a significant portion of the waste stream. It offers a rare opportunity to help the environment through inaction. The only technical obstacle to grasscycling is that very heavy grass clippings can smother a lawn. In areas where this is a problem, it may be necessary to get a new mulching mower that creates finer clippings or to install a mulching attachment on an existing mower-or to mow more often.”
Dr. Norman Hummel, Jr., a grass specialist at Cornell University says “One ton of fresh clippings contain approximately 15 pounds of nitrogen, 2 pounds of phosphorous and 10 pounds of potassium–the three major nutrients–and smaller quantities of the other elements essential for plant life.” He also pointed out that a ton of grass clippings contains 1,700 pounds of water. Leaving clippings on your lawn not only saves on fertilizer costs, it also reduces the amount of water your lawn requires.
Recommending that you mow more frequently (every five days, instead of every seven), the University of Idaho noted “Several studies have shown that it takes 30 to 38 percent less overall time to mow often and leave the clippings than to mow weekly and bag the clippings.”
So here is your choice: keep paying for the city to collect your yardwaste, either separately or by allowing it to be disposed of in your trash can; or don’t bag your grass when you mow and save time, money, and the environment.