Children jumping into freshly raked piles of leaves is a hallmark fall tradition, but what happens to those leaves once the fun is over can affect the environment.
Historically, many Hoosiers have been quick to reach for their matches to rid their yards of fallen leaves and other yard wastes, such as grass clippings, branches and weeds. While burning gets rid of the wastes, the smoke from these fires affects air quality, so setting fire to yard debris is not advised. Smoke from all fires releases carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particles and ozone-forming chemicals and can cause a number of negative impacts for Hoosiers and our environment. Unlike dry, seasoned fire wood, fallen leaves have high moisture content and tend to smolder, releasing thick, unhealthy smoke that can affect family members, neighbors and our environment.
Why should we be concerned about finding alternatives to open burning leaves and other yard waste? Anyone can be affected from the unhealthy smoke from burning piles of leaves. Elderly, young children and individuals with respiratory or heart ailments are particularly vulnerable to ill health effects from fine particle emissions. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) revised the threshold for both particulate matter and ozone, holding all communities accountable for ensuring concentrations lower than ever before. As a result, all of us should work together to prevent unhealthy emissions from unnecessary open burning of leaves and other yard waste.
The good news is there are simple things every one of us can do to improve air quality, starting with the disposal of yard debris. The best way to get rid of leaves, branches and other yard wastes is by composting, chipping and mulching. These options can be done in your own yard or through a program set up with your city, township or county. Composting returns nutrients to the soil instead of releasing harmful chemicals into the air. Chipped wood can be used around trees and in flower beds to retain soil moisture and control weeds. Mulching leaves on the lawn with a lawn mower returns nutrients to the grass, fertilizing your yard. Raking leaves into a pile and composting them over the winter creates a fertile soil amendment that can be used for flower beds, gardens and potted plants in the spring. Food scraps can be added to an active compost pile year-round to reduce the amount of kitchen waste being sent to landfills.
To learn more about ways to dispose of yard debris, visit IDEM's Web site at www.idem.IN.gov/4525.htm.
IDEM (www.idem.IN.gov) implements federal and state regulations regarding the environment. Through compliance assistance, incentive programs and educational outreach, the agency encourages and aids business and citizens in protecting Hoosiers and our environment.
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