leaves in plastic bags

Ah, Fall.  A magical time of year.  Crisp breezes, apples and sweet potato pie, and the new fallen leaves bundled up in piles of plastic bags… um, what?  Really?  Is this what happens every year?

Apparently so.  They’re everywhere! The city provides the leaf bags free of charge and publishes a pick-up schedule so residents know when to put them next to the sidewalk.  I imagine that for many people this is an ordinary part of Fall, perhaps even an enjoyable marking of the changing seasons.  Maybe I just spent too many years on the commune.  Does anyone else think this is weird?leaves in plastic bags 002

(pics are posted on blog if you need a reminder)

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what disturbes me about this practice.  Apart from being another example of our societies wanton use of plastic it’s an example of how we’ve turned an aspect of the natural world into something, well, unnatural.  It’s another break from the cycles of life.

This is our city’s soil, our city’s fertility.  The trees dig deep into the earth to make those leaves; the leaves fall, and are suppose to then decompose and create more soil for other things to grow. In the natural world nothing is wasted, nothing.  Waste is a human invention. But heaven forbid that these nasty leaves should blemish our carefully manicured lawns.leaves in plastic bags 004

Many of my friends go around their own pick-up program; they use the leaves as mulch in their gardens.  I know that these bagged leaves, along with the loose piles of leaves the city also collects, somehow make it into big compactor trucks, several of which dump their loads at Woodfolk House each year.  I’ve also been told that the city pays Panorama Paydirt, a company that produces and sells compost and mulch, to take a portion of the leaves.  I can only hope the rest go to other good causes (though our society’s tendancy to commericalize anything and everything is another part of the problem in my mind).

Still, this to me is a small but poignant example of what we need to shift to create a sustainable urban habitat.  Even the urban environment must exist within a functional, integrated, and complete ecosystem.  We all need to have a basic understanding of that ecosystem, because we’re part of it.

We need to remove this concept of waste from our cultural consciousness, as well as any product or practice that cannot be seamlessly woven back into the fabric of life.  This needs to happen in the spheres of commerce and industry, municipalities, but if we don’t seriously start making different choices on a personal level I have little hope of it happening on larger scales.

Zero Waste is a concept that’s been around since the ’70’s and continues to be developed by a number of thinkers and organizations.  No one’s made it happen yet, and doubtless some of the intitiatives are well-meaning but misguided, but a number of businesses (including Wal-Mart if you can believe it) and municipalities around the world are giving it a go.

What would it take for Charlottesville to be zero-waste?  It would probably involve a shift in attitude away from thinking that putting leaves in plastic bags is a good idea.


~ by skybluestar on November 10, 2009.

4 Responses to “leaves in plastic bags”

  1. Well now,
    I enjoy bagtime, with a twist.

    Some of my neighbors choose to pile up the leaves on long rows for the vacuum sucking truck. That beats bagging all those things, but many just keep on putting several bags out at a time every week. They afford me a perfect opportunity to loot and plunder the suburban forest to build up my own garden soils. The plastic, OK, is the corn based biodegradable type, but I have found that they don’t compost at even half the rate of the leaves, and you have to dump out the leaves of course or nothing composts.

    The bags fit easily in my trunk, or P/U or my van. In fact the van is preferable cause then they can’t open up and spew leaves as you travel down the highway, and you can pile em way high, filling the van up!
    No twist ties, not allowed, so twirl twist the bags good before you throw them in, and if you’re using your pickup, turn them upside down after twisting. Choose wisely, leave the broken bags with sticks pointing through behind. And prepare to get wet after any amount of rain or dew.

    The thing that I find that really sucks the suburban soul from me tho, is not so much the thought of all the soil riches being sucked out, which I do think about- but the neighbors firing up those most despicable and useless little smokie noisemakers- the leaf blower. What a way to ruin a beautiful Sunday afternoon! Chasing leaves around in a little whirlwind forever, just to get them to pile up. Use a rake fatty! and enjoy a job well done in much less time!

    That’s the time to fire up the roadster and get out of dodge- collecting the bags as I go…
    to compost in the backalley of urban Waynesboro.

  2. I agree with all that’s already been posted. I also appreciate the bagged leaves for their easy pick up nature (I didn’t have to reke them in order to use them for compost.:) When I lived on the farm at Acorn Community in the 90’s, I discovered by neglect, the easiest best compost. We collected bagged leaves from C’ville neighborhoods and left a big pile of them in the open field in full sunlight. About 1 1/2 yrs later, I openned up a bag and found rich, black compost full of earthworms. Of all the compost piles I’ve ever toiled making, I’ve never produced such perfect compost. The leaves kept in their bags were in terrarium like conditions that fostered their decomposition with no further effort on my part. I’ve reproduced the same effects by leaving bagged leaves a couple of years in a shaded area. In both experiments I had to pick out portions of the degraded bags as I harvested the black gold. If one had the space to leave bags of leaves for more than a year, and it happened to be somewhere in future one wanted to be rid of crabgrass or such for future gardening, then the piled bags can do double duty as mulch while it cooks into compost. As much as I lament the values of people who don’t treasure their leaves or the natural cycles etc, (and especially compounding that by using noisy gas fume producing leaf blowers), I see the pictures of the already bagged leaves and immediately yearn for a truck and a place to pile them for a spell. Happy foraging

  3. As far as I know, the bags are biodegradable and are dumped off in places like Azalea park when they are available as compost for the gardens there or to come pick up later. I’ve picked up a trunk-load of compost from there for my yard before.

  4. I think this is make No sense because we talk about the environment net we put leaves in bag that sit there for years. Plastic have you ever seen it break down and return to the earth and compound in something helpful NO you haven’t. Why not have them cut up, not to mention how costly it gets to buy bags.

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