Why Not Raking Your Leaves is Actually Beneficial to the Environment

Many of us enjoy the fall foliage: all the reds, oranges, and yellows. The views pair pretty well with the slightly cooler temperatures. There’s one thing that we may not enjoy so much, though – having to grab our rakes and clean up the colorful mess autumn leaves behind. If gathering those leaves is something you dread, you may find it encouraging to know that not raking is actually good for the planet. Here are some reasons why.

Fewer Bags in the Landfill

garbage truck driving through landfill

If you pile your leaves up, bag them, and they get sent off to the landfill, they’ll be joining plenty of similar deposits. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, there were 10.5 million tons of yard trimmings brought to landfills in 2018. That was about 7.2% of the total municipal solid waste dropped off.

It’s not just the waste that’s troublesome, either. As the organic matter breaks down, it produces methane. In 2019, landfills accounted for 15.1% of the United States’ methane emissions. The EPA says that’s roughly equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by more than 21.6 passenger vehicles driven in a year. It also matches the yearly CO2 emissions from nearly 12 million homes’ energy use.

Your Yard Can Benefit from the Leaves

colorful autumn leaves piled on ground

Keeping the leaves on your property can actually be beneficial to your yard! If you opt to keep those leaves where they are and cut them with your lawnmower – a manual mower being the most environmentally-friendly option – you’re left with a natural mulch. The leaf remnants will also fertilize the soil and help prevent weeds. You can move some to your garden, too, to help protect your plants’ roots and preserve soil moisture.

If you would prefer not to have the leaves in your yard but would also like to remove them in a green way, use them for compost. You can either do your own composting or take the leaves to a municipal recycling center. Your city or county may have a composting program that offers curbside pickup, as well. Apart from reducing landfill emissions, composting reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. It also encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that help break down organic matter into humus, a nutrient-filled material that is helpful for plants.

Wildlife May Be Appreciative

luna moth resting on flowers

Leaf litter may not look like much, but it provides habitat to thousands of species. The National Wildlife Federation says salamanders, chipmunks, wood frogs, box turtles, shrews, and thousands of different insects use this leaf layer as their primary habitat. During the winter time, many species of butterfly and moth find shelter there. They may do so as eggs, pupae, or adults. In fact, the NWF says 94% of moth species use this habitat to complete their lifecycle. Spiders also find shelter there, ready to continue to do their part to reduce pests.

With much of their food living in this habitat, the leaf layer is essential for birds’ survival, too. Many species will forage there for insects, including wood thrushes, sparrows, robins, and wild turkeys. The NWF notes that 96% of backyard birds use butterfly and moth caterpillars as the primary food source for their babies. Other species, including ovenbirds and some bats, will nest in the leaf layer.

Take a Break From the Rake

colorful autumn leaves on ground

In summary, if your rake is not exactly your best friend, you don’t have to reluctantly parter up with it… at least not for leaves.

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