Yard waste is vegetative matter resulting from landscaping maintenance and land clearing projects. Indiana Code 13-20-9 bans the disposal of yard waste, with some exceptions, in a solid waste landfill by residential, commercial, and industrial sources. Leaves, brush, and woody vegetative matter (e.g., twigs, branches, tree stumps) greater than 3 feet in length are subject to the yard waste disposal ban. IDEM encourages composting of yard waste and the development and use of registered composting facilities and alternative management practices to reduce yard waste and promote beneficial reuse.
The yard waste disposal ban does not apply to:
- Woody vegetative matter (e.g. twigs, branches) less than 3 feet in length and bagged, bundled, or otherwise contained
- Very small amounts of vegetative matter less than 3 feet in length; bagged, bundled, or otherwise contained; and combined with other solid waste
- Christmas trees, house plants, and vegetable food scraps
- Vegetative byproducts not derived from landscaping maintenance or land clearing projects, such as from flower shops and funeral homes
- IDEM-approved composted vegetative matter that is used as cover material for a solid waste landfill
IDEM Nonrule Policy Document Waste-0019 (available on the IDEM Nonrule Policies page) offers some additional guidance. Local governments may establish ordinances regarding yard waste. Please contact the appropriate local government agency to find out about local requirements. The IN.gov My Local site contains information on local agencies, along with contact information for these groups.
Composting is the transformation of vegetative matter and other organic materials into a nutrient-rich humus that can be used as a soil amendment or fertilizer to enrich soil and help crops and plants grow. Soil microorganisms decompose (or naturally decay) the organic component of vegetative matter and other organic materials through natural biochemical processes. Diverting yard waste from landfills saves landfill space; reduces the release of methane, a greenhouse gas that forms when organic wastes break down in the oxygen-free environment of a landfill; reduces the need for chemical fertilizers; and makes good use of waste that is relatively clean and biodegradable.
Registered composting facilities manage the composting process and give away or sell the final product. For information about local yard waste management services, including holiday tree recycling, contact a solid waste management district (listed on the Association of Indiana Solid Waste Management Districts site) or local government agency (see the IN.gov My Local site).
Citizens, schools, institutions, and others can also compost. However, any individual who wishes to compost vegetative waste themselves should determine if they are exempt from the composting facility registration requirement. Activities that are exempt from the registration requirement include:
- Composting at one's property vegetative matter and other types of organic material that are generated by the person’s activities.
- A composting operation in an area less than 300 square feet.
- The temporary storage of vegetative matter where only an incidental amount of composting will occur before removal of the matter.
Persons involved in land clearing activities do have the option to bury any vegetative wastes, such as leaves, twigs, branches, limbs, tree trunks, and stumps, on-site. However, because of the potential for future ground subsidence where large quantities of such material have been buried, the Office of Land Quality recommends composting.
Other Organic Material
Revisions to IC 13-20-10 in 2014 allowed other organic materials besides yard waste to be processed at a composting facility registered under IC 13-20-10. These organic materials can include some food wastes, manures, and similar organic materials. A permit from the IDEM Land Application Program is required if compost from industrial food waste composting will be applied to the land. An option to composting for many of these additional organic materials is use as a feedstock at registered biomass digesters and gasification facilities to produce energy.
Indiana’s open burning laws and rules make it illegal to burn trash and generally prohibit open burning in Indiana, except for exempt burning activities. Where exemptions apply, requirements and conditions in state rules and local ordinances must be followed. However, even if open burning is exempt and allowed by local ordinances, it is never advised. Smoke from wood contains carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particles, and ozone-forming chemicals. Burning leaves, grass clippings, weeds, wet wood, and other high-moisture wood products will increase the volume of these chemicals in smoke and the harm to human health. IDEM recommends environmentally friendly alternatives. Mulching, composting, and chipping will dispose of yard waste without creating harmful smoke. Open burning for fire training, disaster debris management, land clearing, and prescribed burns require IDEM’s prior approval. Please consult the Office of Air Quality Open Burning site for more information. Also contact the local health department or solid waste management district for information about ordinances prohibiting open burning.
Composting Facility Regulatory Requirements
Owners or operators of facilities conducting compost operations must submit a registration application and receive approval from IDEM before beginning compost activities. They also must comply with requirements in IC 13-20-10, which include, but are not limited to, design, location, and operation of yard waste composting facilities; dust, odor, and noise control; vector, and pathogen control (if compost material contains food waste); and annual reporting. Registration instructions and guidance are provided on the Composting Facility Regulatory Requirements page.
- Greening Our Backyards
- Indiana Community Recycling Grant Program
- Registered Vegetative Composting Facilities
- Registered Compost Facility Annual Report
For more information or assistance, please contact the applicable regional permit staff identified on the Office of Land Quality Solid Waste Permit Staff Map.