The crisp clean air of autumn fouled by the smell of smoke

Burning leaves and yard waste is a major cause of wildfires and contributes to air and water pollution. Composting is your best alternative for managing leaves, yard waste and food waste.

Inhale, exhale; ah, smell the crisp clean air of autumn. This clean air should not be fouled by the smell of burning and smoke from burning yard waste and leaves. The open burning of trash, yard wastes, leaves, brush and other unwanted materials pollutes the air and poses a fire hazard.

Michigan amended the Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act’s (PA451 of 1994) open burning laws in 2012 with PA102 banning the open burning of trash and waste. While yard waste such as brush and leaves can be burned it is important to note that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality stresses that this still generates a thick smoke that can affect human health, and is banned in populated areas of 7,500 persons or more. Many areas have local burning rules ordinances governing less populated areas. So it is best to check with your local township or fire department if leaf and brush burning is allowed.

Burning to dispose of leaves, yard waste and brush in roadside ditches and along shorelines of lakes and streams adds additional concerns. The smoke from ground level low temperature burning increases health risks in children and older adults. Burning debris is the number one cause of all wildfires and forest fires. Ashes from fires contaminate surface and groundwater with sediment and excess nutrients. It is never a good idea to burn on a beach because ashes from leaves and wood add potassium (K) or “potash”, which is a fertilizer, to your water. This increases plant and algae growth in your lake or stream causing the water to turn green and encouraging other kinds of algae growth.

Some alternative ways to manage yard waste, leaves and grass clippings are by taking advantage of local recycling and composting programs. You can also safely compost in your own back yard to prevent contamination to our air and water from burning. Composting is also natural, beneficial to your plants and improves your soil. You can also add your food waste to your compost pile too.

Composting is the best alternative to managing backyard waste and kitchen food scraps. It reduces the amount of waste you produce and provides a beneficial soil amendment product. Michigan State University Extension educators working across Michigan provide Michigan Firewise educational programming and assistance. For more information about composting and gardening visit Gardening in Michigan. To learn more about the basics of composting consider taking a Master Composter class.