Home Composting

Autumn leaves drift off to landfill


The Environment Agency advised late this summer that autumn leaves collected from streets and walkways should not be used for producing any compost that could be used on agricultural land. Local authorities will now have to send their roadside leaf sweepings to landfill or incineration; costly alternatives both financially and environmentally.

A series of trials with 21 local authorities in autumn 2012 carried out by the Environment Agency found that contamination was high and variable levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found in roadside leaf litter and the composted outputs. The PAHs are suggested to pose a risk to human health.

What can you do to help?

Sweeping the leaves around your household and producing your own leafmould or compost will not only provide you with a valuable resource for future growing seasons but will also reduce the amount of leaves being blown into streets or public walkways requiring local authority collection.   Although small amounts of autumn leaves can be added to your compost bin, large amounts may overwhelm it. This is because leaves rot down by the slow, cool action of fungi, rather than the quicker-acting bacteria that are responsible for composting. Recycling the leaves separately produces what is known as leafmould.

How to make leafmould…

    • Collect leaves by hand or by rake. Leaf hoovers are available for large quantities, some of which will also shred the leaves, speeding up the decay.
    • Water the leaves if they are dry to help kick-start the decaying process. Collecting the leaves after a rainfall avoids having to do this yourself.
    • Pack the leaves into a suitable container;

o A black plastic bag can be used; make a few holes in the bag with a fork and tie the top loosely once full.

o Make a container by wrapping plastic or wire netting around a few stakes driven into the ground, then fill with leaves.

    • Allow the leaves a year or two to decay into leafmould.