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Dumping Garden Waste Harms Our Waterways

Proper disposal of grass clippings, yard waste is important for protecting our water system.

When I’m out paddleboarding in the early morning, I often remove bottles, chip wrappers and those now-famous red Solo cups from the serene lake waters I am traversing. Some of the junk I find is tougher to remove, however.

Gardening season has kicked into high gear in Washington, and it seems many people are tempted to just dump their garden debris and grass clippings into a nearby lake, stream, bay or wetland. This type of junk isn’t quite as easy to lean down and scoop up onto my board – and it’s gross.

Proper disposal of grass clippings and other yard waste is important for protecting our water.

In fact, disposing of grass clippings the wrong way can add up to big pollution problems. It can cause you headaches as well -- placing yard waste near storm drains or directly into local lakes, streams, wetlands, and bays is illegal!

Here’s why tossing yard waste in the water isn’t a good idea. 

It can:

  • Block storm drains and cause flooding.
  • Lead to harmful algae blooms from excessive growth of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Smother spawning beds of fish and destroy habitat for other aquatic life.
  • Suppress native aquatic plants that support a healthy ecosystem.
  • Create low-oxygen conditions and provide an opportunity for non-native plants to grow in their place such as Eurasion Watermilfoil and Brazilian Elodea.
  • Lead to sickness in animals and humans if the clippings or yard waste is treated with fertilizers or pesticides.

Each year, the Department of Ecology gets complaints about folks dumping their grass clippings and other yard waste directly into our lakes, rivers, and Puget Sound. Get information on reporting environmental problems here: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/reportenviroproblem.html

Composting benefits

Here’s a better way.  Turn those grass clippings into compost. You’ll reduce waste and get these benefits:

  • Healthier soil for plants and gardens.
  • Save time and money by reducing the need for water, fertilizer and pesticides.
  • Build rich soil that absorbs run-off and breaks down urban pollutants such as oil, grease, metals, fertilizers and pesticides that harm fish in urban streams or Puget Sound.
  • Improve landscape appearance.

Other options

If you don’t have the time or space for composting, consider these options:

  • Place your grass clippings in the curbside yard waste container provided by your waste hauler.
  • Drop off yard wastes at a yard debris collection site. Contact your local public works or solid waste department for details.
  • Mow grass without a lawnmower bag and leave clippings to naturally decompose. Doing so will not produce thatch.

You can learn more about natural yard care and other ways to protect our waters on Ecology’s Washington Waters website.

Wendy DiPeso September 02, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Thanks for this article Linda. I had no idea anyone would even think of dumping yard waste into a lake or stream. Yard "waste" is actually a resource to gardeners interested in letting nature do most of the work for them. Gaia's Garden second edition is a great book for learning how to reduce your labor and increase your rewards of food, beauty and healthy living for man and nature.
Alison Cavanaugh September 02, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I hate to see that people are littering in our waters. When fishing season started, I fished a lot with my fiance at Steilacoom. It seems like every time it happened to be a nice day the day before, it would look like a garbage dump. We would grab those red solo cups out of the water and anything else we found. There just really is no excuse for littering, let alone doing it in the lakes. Steilacoom is a really great place to fish. I wish people would not ruin it for others. Not to mention, the fish and other wildlife.
Laile Di Silvestro September 03, 2012 at 01:23 AM
I love the tips on ways to convert this 'waste' into treasure rather than dumping it in the most convenient location. Issaquah and Sammamish readers can see this conversion in action at the City of Issaquah's Pickering Barn Community Garden. Many of the local P-patches would also welcome any visitors who want to take a look at their approach!
Question Mark September 03, 2012 at 09:43 PM
I second the tactic mentioned in the article to mulch grass clippings into the lawn rather than bag them up and dump elsewhere. In addition to saving labor and eliminating the need to find a place to dump them, grass clippings produce a natural fertilizer for the lawn, reducing/eliminating the need to add artificial fertilizers. The main trick to successfully use the lawn mulch technique is to mow when the grass is no more than 2-3 inches taller than mown height. When grass is too tall the amount removed cannot as easily be "absorbed" by the lawn. Happy gardening! --Mark
Aaron Evan Kimpton September 04, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Having moved to Connecticut from seattle a while back, i stopped in to see what was new. My wife and I found this article to be refreshing. It is amazing what silliness you find comforting when there is no thought of it out here.

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