Here’s Why Raking Your Leaves Is Bad for the Environment

Sending leaves to landfills may be contributing to climate change

(Photo by Ilona Studre/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(Photo by Ilona Studre/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
ullstein bild via Getty Images

With October underway, it’s time for fall foliage, and while the natural response to leaves dropping on your yard may be to reach for your rake, environmentalists in a new USA Today report say that may actually be harmful.

In 2015, yard trimmings and leaves generated 34.7 tons of waste, which accounted for 13 percent of all waste generation. Of those 34.7 tons, 10.8 million went to landfills instead of being composted or mulched. “The worst thing you can do is put [leaves] in bags and send them to landfills,” David Mizejewski, a naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation, told USA Today. He noted that in addition to taking up space, leaves in landfills can break down with other organic materials to create methane, the greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Removing the leaves from your yard also has an impact on local wildlife. Caterpillars and pupa are often found in leaf litter, and raking it up removes a source of food for local birds. That’s concerning because as Mizejewski notes, North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970. “Keeping some leaf litter can really benefit these kinds of declining wildlife,” he said. “This is wildlife conservation on the scale of your lawn.”

Of course, every lawn is different, and if you find yourself  a situation where you simply must remove your leaves, Mizejewski suggests cutting them up and using them as fertilizer on potted plants or flower beds or starting a compost bin.

“This is about taking baby steps for most people and getting to a maintenance on your yard and garden that is a little bit more environmentally friendly and wildlife friendly,” he said.

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