On Wednesday  yesterday — the city cycled back, forth and back again on the question of yard waste collection. First, it was off, suspended indefinitely. Then, it was back on, per a mid-morning announcement. Finally, in mid-afternoon, it was off again, except for a one-time sweep, beginning today, to collect limbs and branches from the recent storm.

The confusion is understandable. Having two guys (it’s always guys) riding on the back of a truck, and jumping off to hoist barrels and bags into the chopper was always a dubious approach — very labor intensive, heavy barrels leading to injuries, even heavier barrels if it rained. Our yard waste collection system was expensive for the taxpayers and dangerous for our sanitation workers, not to mention the obvious air pollution generated by all those trucks.

But now, in our post-Covid 19 world, social distancing does not permit two men riding side by side on the truck, just one. We’d need twice as many trucks to do the job, at higher cost and with more pollution.

In short, it’s time to re-think how we go about disposing of yard waste in Raleigh. Because the old system wasn’t very good, and for the foreseeable future, it’s become an impossibility given the dangers of the coronavirus. 

How should we proceed? Here’s a few thoughts to get us started:

  • Lots of yard waste can be composted on-site. It doesn’t need to be collected and trucked away.
  • Tree limbs and branches are the exception to the first point.
  • To make the collection job safer, why not require that yard waste be bagged in clear plastic bags small enough that they’re easily lifted. Tree limbs would still be tied in bundles.
  • To offset the cost of collection, the city could sell the bags. This, in effect, would be a “pay as you throw” system. The more bags you need, the more it will cost you to have them collected. If you compost most or all of your stuff, you’ll pay little or nothing for the service. (Obviously, only the city’s authorized bags would be collected.)
  • This would save the taxpayers a lot of money and be safer for our sanitation workers. And, with residents incentivized to compost instead of throw, many fewer truck miles would be logged and a lot less carbon emitted.
  • Which brings us to the annual fiasco known as leaf collection. In the past, the city collected leaves from the curb 3x a year, which worked passably well; with 3 passes, they were swept up in a reasonable time after they’d fallen. But then we cut back to 2x a year, which means some neighborhoods are collected too soon (because few leaves have fallen) and then these same neighborhoods are collected last on the second pass, which means the leaves remain in a pile from October-November to February-March. This system does not work very well, or at all.
  • And by the way, nobody puts the leaves on the curb, because any grass growing under them will be dead by the time the leaves are collected. So the piles get pushed into the street, and they wash with the rain into city storm drains, causing a big soggy and expensive mess.
  • What to do? Do away with the leaf collections. They don’t work for anybody, and they’re very expensive. Instead, sell more of those plastic bags. Accept the leaves in bags as part of the regular yard waste collection.
  • Circling back, most of those leaves can be composted with little trouble. And if you don’t need the compost yourself, your neighbors certainly do, and are even now BUYING big truckloads of mulch and having it delivered — yes — into the street!
  • Let’s get a little closer to nature, shall we? Compost the leaves. Mulch the grass. Save money. Save the planet.