There Is a Wrong Way to Manage Your Leaves — And The Consequences Can Be Nasty

There Is a Wrong Way to Manage Your Leaves — And The Consequences Can Be Nasty

  • This article was contributed by Ashley Broussard, intern for the Kane County Division of Environmental & Water Resources.

It’s finally feeling like autumn, and with the leaves falling, it’s time to share the best way to handle them. While it may sound silly, there is a wrong way to manage your leaves. When left in the yard or in a pile near the curb, it can have big — and bad — consequences.

Leaves left sitting are swept into the storm drain system, which ultimately end up in our waterways. During weather events, leaves can clog storm drains and cause flooding.

Once the leaves start to decompose (whether in the storm drain or on your curb), they release phosphorus that gets into our watershed — which contributes to a major problem.

Why Does Leaf Management Matter?

Nutrient run off is a huge problem in the United States. Excess nutrients can cause “dead zones” in waterways by creating large algal blooms.

In excess, the algae consume most of the oxygen in the water, a condition called hypoxia, to the point that most life forms (like fish) cannot obtain enough oxygen to survive.

In 2017, National Geographic published an article on the Gulf of Mexico due to its dead zone’s alarmingly large size — more than 8,700 square miles. That is the size of New Jersey!

Even 1,000 miles away, Illinois is one of the biggest contributors to the phosphorus pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, shown on the image below. In fact, Phosphorus is one of the biggest threats to Fox River.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey (2014)

How Can I Stop Phosphorous Pollution?

The U.S. Geological Survey has recently found that just preventing leaves from entering storm drains can have dramatic effects on helping to reduce the problem. In Madison, WI, the phosphorous levels dropped by nearly 80 percent by introducing a leaf management program.

To prevent your household from contributing to this environmental hazard:

  • Take your yard waste to your local yard waste disposal program and check out events coming up in your area.
  • Add leaves to your compost pile. If you’re just getting started, Soil Saver Compost Bins are available for a discounted cost for Kane County residents.
  • Mulch your leaves. Chop the leaves into smaller pieces using a lawn mower and sprinkle them on the beds of trees, shrubs, flowerbeds, etc. to act as a natural fertilizer.