Environmentalists are confirming what teens have known for decades: Raking is terrible and overrated.
Bagging up leaves and throwing them out destroys precious habitat for small animals and fills up landfills. In fact, leaves and other “yard debris” make up 33 million tons of solid waste — or 13 percent of the solid waste in the United States — every year, according to a blog post from the National Wildlife Federation.
The NWF published the post in September, but it’s resurfacing on the Internet this week — probably because at this point in the season, everyone is desperately searching for excuses to not have to rake.
In addition to becoming natural fertilizer for your soil, leaves that stay where they fall create “mini ecosystems,” according to another post by the group. Chipmunks, salamanders, earthworms, turtles and other small creatures live in the leaves or use them for food and nesting material, and butterflies and moth pupae like to spend the winter in the leaf layers.
That’s right — if you rake your leaves, you’re hurting chipmunks and butterflies. What are you, a monster?
But admittedly, a very thick layer of dead leaves under certain conditions could harm your lawn — especially if they’ll be covered with snow all winter. Luckily, there are alternatives that are still much more environmentally friendly than chucking them in the landfill.
For one, you can turn the leaves into mulch by shredding them with a lawn mower until they’ve been chopped down into dime-size pieces and you can see the grass through them. The smaller pieces can break down more quickly, and evidence suggests they’ll help return nutrients to the soil and can even help prevent weed growth.
You can also rake the leaves as usual, but save the leaves to use as compost for your garden.
Just don’t burn your leaves — it might smell nice, but the smoke contributes to air pollution.
Contact the author at Hilary.Hanson@huffingtpost.com