Recycled grass clippings return nutrients back to the soil, reduce fertilizer cost and save time — so why aren’t more people doing it?
It’s not a new idea. It’s been around for quite some time, and yet the message doesn’t seem to resonate with some people. Why? Who knows? Grasscycling has been both encouraged and promoted as a means of good environmental stewardship for nearly three decades, if not longer.
Some twenty years ago, Dr. Ali Harivandi at the University of California reported that grasscycling was practical for most stands of grass. “It’s simple, easy and environmentally sound. Yes, there are a few exceptions, such as golf putting greens, tennis and croquet courts, or where an exceptional uniform turf is required, such as a major league sports field or a turfgrass sod farm, but the benefits it provides to the average homeowner and a lawn are substantial,” Harivandi said.
A report that Harivandi co-authored, California Turfgrass Culture – Grasscycling in California, addressed the many benefits of recycling grass clippings. It found that grasscycling:
- saves time by eliminating bagging and removing of clippings;
- saves energy by conserving the fuel that’s required to haul clippings off to a landfill a municipal composting site;
- saves valuable landfill space;
- encourages a healthier stand of grass;
- releases nutrients to the soil;
- grass clippings decomposition may substantially enhance soil microbial activity;
- saves money;
- and research indicates that significant amounts of nutrients, mainly nitrogen, could be returned to the soil by grasscycling which in turn reduces fertilizer use and cost.
[more facts in the infographic below]
Dr. William M. Johnson with Texas A & M who serves as the county extension agent – horticulture and masters gardener program coordinator, Galveston County AgriLife Extension, reported that surveys have shown that in some neighborhoods as much as one half of the solid waste pickups during the summer is grass clippings. It was estimated that one city in Texas alone, comprised of about 18,000 homes, generated over 700 tons (that’s 1.4 million pounds) of grass clippings per week and were set out for solid waste pick up.
He went on to add that studies have shown that homeowners who practice a “Don’t Bag It” program spend 38 percent less time mowing the lawn as compared to the time invested by homeowners who bag their lawn clippings.
Back in the early 1990s The University of Idaho Cooperative Extension went so far as to say there is no good reason to collect and dispose of lawn grass clippings. In the collection system, grass clippings are a costly nuisance. Yet when recycled at home, grass clippings are a resource of valuable plant nutrients and organic matter for your soil. The best way to manage grass clippings is to leave them on the lawn. Grass clippings left to decompose (in place) will improve your lawn. You can have a healthy lawn while spending less time and less money maintaining it. When left on the lawn, properly mowed grass clippings filter down to the soil and decompose rapidly, usually within a few weeks. During the breakdown process, the clippings feed soil organisms, recycle plant nutrients, and contribute organic matter to the soil.
Millennium Waste Incorporated, a Rock Island, Ill.-based company that generates income from hauling waste, went so far as to encourage its customers to be environmentally conscious by stating on its website: “The best thing to do with grass clippings is grasscycling. Grass clippings and other yard waste make up 12 percent of solid waste in landfills throughout the United States. During peak seasons, that percentage can potentially increase up to 50 percent. Tossing out grass clippings and yard waste is wasteful and expensive. Taxpayers spend millions of dollars collecting and transporting yard waste to the landfill rather than using it as a natural fertilizer for their lawns.”
There are many municipalities across the country that pick up yard waste as part of a homeowners monthly service for trash pick-up; there are other communities that require homeowners to purchase approved paper bags from the city, or Yard Waste stamps, both measures are intended to offset the cost of hauling away grass clippings to landfills or composting locations. Or, as a means of generating revenue.
But one has to wonder, might it not be wiser for municipalities to encourage people to practice grasscycling? It would help the environment, substantially reduce the cost of transporting grass clippings for disposal and most likely reduce the labor and expense associated with yard waste pick-up. If one were to estimate (based on the grass clipping generated by that city in Texas) that the average homeowner generates nearly 80 pounds of grass clipping per year that’s… Well, that’s quite a waste.