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Friday, February 27, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 3.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: Ideas Friday with Leave the Leaf in Madison
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Now that the Milwaukee Brewers have given me more time this fall, you'd think I wouldn't mind raking some leaves. But the truth is I hate raking leaves. Happily, it turns out we can be good to our environment and a little more lazy at the same time by leaving more leaves closer to where they fall.

According to Madison recycling guru George Dreckmann, the city collected 15,965 tons of leaves at the curb and another 5,149 tons of leaves and grass at the drop off sites last year.

But through the city's Leave the Leaf program, we've probably knocked 2,000 tons off that number. The program encourages us to compost our leaves, mulch them into our lawn, or use them as mulch for our flowerbeds.

I tried all those strategies this year. Instead of schlepping my leaves to the curb from our backyard, I piled them into the close-at-hand compost bin, taking a complete time-consuming step out of the process. I also made it a point not to be too careful about the raking, so that when I cut the grass I also ended up mulching some leaves into the turf. That will create a healthier lawn without using fertilizer. Finally, I'm going to pile up the leaves where they lie in our gardens to create a winter mulch that will keep the plants insulated.

My guess is that we've kept maybe 75% of our leaves out of the terrace and curb gutters -- and therefore out of our lakes where they provide nutrients for weeds.

Dealing with our leaves in our own backyards is also good for us as taxpayers. The city spends $1.8 million picking up leaves at the curb. Then it ends up composting and mulching them, only to have some of the very same home owners come to pick up the free compost that they could have had in their own composting bins from the start.

This project is part of The Natural Step program that the city adopted a few years back.

I don't think it's unrealistic, through lots of public education and some incentives, to get us to the point where we're leaving half of our leaves on site. That would save almost a million dollars a year and plenty of fuel from the collection vehicles, provide homeowners with a natural fertilizer, and keep more leaf waste from polluting our lakes.

Have a good weekend.

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