Yard Waste Preparation Guidelines
Until recently, grass, leaves, brush, branches, and dead plants were overlooked by municipalities as ingredients for making useful products like organic compost and mulch. This resource, referred to as yard waste, is now collected separately from household trash. The City processes this material to create compost or mulch. We collect yard waste by regular collection and by request.
Yard Waste - Regular Collection
Yard waste is now collected separately from trash. Place yard waste into rigid/reusable containers or paper yard-waste bags (in autumn, please keep leaf bags separate) and put them next to your refuse container. Do not use your City-issued trash container for yard waste unless you want the material treated as regular trash. Collection occurs on the same day as trash. Although the City does not provide paper bags or re-usable containers for yard waste, adhesive labels are available by request to be applied by the resident to their reusable container to identify its contents as yard waste.
- Place yard waste next to your trash cart in reusable, hard-sided containers or paper yard-waste bags (Do not use your City-issued trash container).
- Each bag or container must weigh less than 45 lbs.
- Dirt, sod, stumps, rocks, and stones are not acceptable (arrange for private disposal).
- Material in plastic bags will be thrown away as trash and not composted.
Yard Waste - Collection by Request
Brush, branches, and logs that are too bulky or heavy to fit into a container are collected curbside by request. Staff will collect up to two felled trees at curbside (restrictions apply, see below). Use Call.Click.Connect.to schedule an appointment.
- Collection is available only for logs and branches less than 18 inches in diameter and less than 10 feet long. No tree stumps.
- Place brush curbside, not in the yard or alley. Stack large items next to the curb.
- Overhead clearance of 25 feet is required (look for power lines and tree limbs).
- Do not mix lumber or construction debris with brush.
- Do not place brush by parked cars; 10 ft. of clearance is required.
- Do not stack brush against fixed objects such as poles, posts, fences, walls, or buildings.
- Do not block sidewalks.
Composting - "An Everyday Way to Fight Global Climate Change"
Resource Recovery Stations at Farmers' Markets
Are you interested in composting food waste, but aren't able to do so at home? The Resource Recovery Division now has Resource Recovery Stations, located at the City's Famers' Markets (Old Town, Del Ray, West End, & Four Mile Run). Staff will be on site to explain how to compost food and yard waste at home, and accept items for composting. There will also be compost tubs available to purchase for $5; each one conveniently has a lid, handle, and small enough to transport food waste to and from home, disposing items at the stations located in the Farmers' Markets.
What is Compost?
Compost is one of the most valuable resources for beautifying your landscape, preventing waste and saving money. Typical yard waste such as leaves, grass clippings, and shrub trimmings are some of the ingredients used to make compost. Finished compost is produced when bacteria and fungi break down organic matter in the pile or bin.
- Prevents waste and saves both you and the city valuable tax dollars. Few residents realize that 20 percent of the trash picked up on collection days is yard waste. Composting also prevents yard waste from being raked or blown into the street, where it can clog storm drains and street gutters.
- Avoids the trouble and expense of purchasing mulch.
- Supplements the soil's capacity to hold nutrients and moisture so plants can use them, reducing the need for fertilizers and excess watering.
- Decreases soil erosion and water run-off. Plant roots penetrate compost-rich soil easier and hold the soil in place.
- Suppresses weed growth in the soil.
How to Compost
Composting is generally easy following 4 easy steps:
- Choose or construct an appropriate bin for your compost. General yard waste and grass clippings can be composted in almost any type of compost bin. Enclosed bins may be more difficult to turn and aerate, but they are also better for regulating moisture and temperature, which can accelerate the composting process. NOTE: Although vegetable and fruit scraps make excellent compost, we highly recommend you choose an enclosed container with a secure lid to avoid attracting unwanted animals or other pests.
- Fill your bin with a balanced mixture for best results: (1 to 3 rule)
- 1 part Green stuff (high in nitrogen) to activate the heat process in your compost. Perfect heat-generating materials include: young weeds (before they develop seeds); comfrey leaves; yarrow; chicken, rabbit or pigeon manure; grass cuttings; etc. Other green items that compost well include fruit and vegetables; fruit and vegetable scraps; coffee grounds and tea leaves (including tea bags - remove the staple if you wish); vegetable plant remains; plants.
- 3 parts Brown stuff (high in carbon) to serve as the "fiber" for your compost. Brown stuff includes fall (autumn) leaves; dead plants and weeds; sawdust; cardboard & cardboard tubes (from foil wraps etc); old flowers (including dried floral displays, minus plastic/foam attachments); old straw and hay; and small animal bedding.
- Other items that can be composted but you may not have thought of before: paper towels; paper bags; cotton clothing (torn up); egg shells; hair (human, dog, cat etc.) Use all these items in moderation.
- Air. It is possible to compost without air (anaerobically), but the process employs different bacteria and an anaerobic compost pile will take on a sour smell like vinegar. If you believe your compost pile needs more air, turn it, and consider adding more dry or brown stuff to open up the structure.
- Water. Your pile should be about as damp as a sponge that has been wrung out. Depending on your climate, you can add water directly or rely on the moisture that comes in with "green" items. A lid on the compost bin will help to keep moisture in. If a pile gets too much water in it, it might not get enough air.
- Soil or starter compost. This is not strictly necessary, but a light sprinkling garden soil between layers can help to introduce the correct bacteria to start the compost cycle a little more quickly. If you are pulling weeds, the soil left on the roots may be sufficient to serve this purpose.
- Layer or mix the different materials in your bin so that they come into contact with one another and so that you avoid any large clumps. Especially avoid compacting large quantities of green materials together.
- Turn your pile regularly, once every week or two. Mixing the pile in this way helps to keep air flowing inside the pile and encourages the growth of the right kind of bacteria and makes for a nice, sweet-smelling pile which will decompose faster.
- If you live in a colder climate that has a shorter composting season, be careful of adding slow rotting items such as tough branches, twigs and hedge clippings; wood ash; wood shavings and wood pruning. They can be composted, but you may want to compost them separately due to their longer break-down time.
Trench Composting of Food Waste - An Easy Alternative
If you happen to have a yard with flower beds or ornamental plants, there is an easy, no muss, no fuss method of composting food waste that you might try. 'Trench composting' requires nothing more than a shovel and some yard space. Dig a hole ten inches deep, place food waste in hole, chop it up with the shovel blade, cover with dirt, and tamp it down. Next week, dig a new hole right next to the original. Snake your way around your flower beds and ornamentals. The food waste breaks down quickly and the earth worms love it!
What Not to Compost
*Avoid composting bread, pasta, nuts, cooked food, and newspaper. They don't break down very easily, become quite slimy, and slow down the process.
Never compost the following items for reasons of health, hygiene or failure to decompose:
- Meat and meat scraps
- Fish and fish bones
- Plastic or synthetic fibers
- Oil or fat
- Pet or human feces (except for manure of herbivorous creatures such as rabbits and horses)
- Weeds that have gone to seed
- Diseased plants
- Disposable diapers (nappies)
- Glossy magazines
- Coal and coke ash
- Cat litter
Composting can be one part science and one part art form. Learning how to achieve the right balance of materials in your compost pile often takes practice. Below is a list of common problems that can arise with compost piles.
- Possible Causes: excess moisture (anaerobic conditions); compaction (anaerobic conditions)
- Solution: turn pile or add dry porous "brown" material such as straw, leaves, or sawdust (untreated); turn pile or make pile smaller
- Possible Causes: too much nitrogen or "green material" (lack of carbon)
- Solution: add high carbon or "brown" material such as straw, wood chips, sawdust, or leaves
Low Pile Temperature
- Possible Causes: pile too small; insufficient moisture; poor aeration; not enough nitrogen or "green material"
- Solution: make pile bigger or insulate sides; add water while turning pile; turn pile; add "green material" (nitrogen sources) such as grass clippings
Pests such as rats, raccoons, insects
- Possible Causes: presence of meat scraps or fatty food waste
- Solution: NEVER include meat, dairy or fatty foods in a compost pile; Composting should not attract pests or cause of any rodent problem, however, it can aggravate existing problems if improper composting is practiced.
- Guide to Backyard Composting & Grasscycling
Download this simple 3-fold flyer on the basics of backyard composting and grass-cycling
Additional Information on Composting is available by contacting:
- The Virginia Cooperative Extension
- The Master Gardener Help Line at (703) 228-6414 for composting (and other horticultural questions).
- EPA – "Create Your Own Compost Pile"
- Department of Environmental Protection, Montgomery County, MD - "Just the Facts About … Home Composting"
What is Grasscycling?
Grasscycling involves leaving grass clippings on your lawn after mowing, to fertilize the grass and return nutrients to the lawn. Grasscycling is an alternative to throwing away the valuable nutrients in grass.
Each year, the average lawn generates eight tons of grass clippings per acre. Your grass clippings can account for as much as 50% of your yard waste during the peak growing season. You can leave these clippings on the lawn to feed the soil. It enhances the health of your lawn by adding moisture and acting as a natural fertilizer. It also saves you time – no more bagging clippings and dragging them to the curb!
- Lawnmower outfitted with a mulching blade
How to Grasscycle
- Mow your lawn to between 2 and 2 ½ inches to hide clippings. Cut no more than 1/3 of grass height to keep clippings small. Leave the clippings on the lawn. They will break down quickly and not result in thatch. Mow the lawn when it's dry to avoid clumping.
- Water deeply, but infrequently. (If you have clay soil, it is better to water more frequently for a shorter period of time.)
- If you need a new mower, consider a rotary mower or an electric mulching lawn mower. The best mulching mowers can blow finely chopped clippings down into your lawn where they disappear from sight, decompose, and fertilize the lawn quickly. An electric mulching mower also cuts down on air pollution and a push mower eliminates it completely!
- Guide to Backyard Composting & Grass-Cycling - Download this 3-fold flyer on the basics of backyard composting and grass-cycling.
- Master Gardener help line at Virginia Cooperative Extension – Arlington/Alexandria (703) 228-6414
- Information about watering your lawn and water conservation - City of Alexandria Office of Environmental Quality website.
Christmas Tree Collection
Christmas trees can be recycled curbside by residents who receive trash collection services from the City. Trees should be set at your regular yard waste collection point, on your trash collection day. Trees collected during this time will be ground into mulch and available to residents in the spring.
To prepare trees for collection, residents are reminded to:
- Remove all ornaments, tinsel and stands.
- Do not place in plastic bags.
- Place the tree at your regular yard waste collection point by 6:00 am on your refuse collection day.
Spring Leaf & Wood Mulch Program
As leaves and wood compost, they become a valuable nutrient supplement for garden and lawn applications. Each Spring, leaves collected each autumn are shredded in a large "tub grinder" to produce a product referred to as "leaf mulch." The Christmas trees collected in January are also shredded and chipped into "wood mulch."
Pick Up of Mulch
For a limited time during the Spring and early Summer months, mulch is available free of charge at the site on a first-come, first-served basis. However, on-site pick up is limited to Alexandria residents and private contractors who use the mulch for pre-approved Alexandria City government projects only. Residents must bring own shovels, buckets, etc for mulch pick-up. Proof of residency will be checked at the site.
Mulch Site Location and Hours
The City of Alexandria's mulch site is location at 4215 Eisenhower Avenue. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Gates close at 3:30 p.m.).
Delivery of Mulch
For a limited time during the Spring and early Summer months, mulch is also available for delivery. Deliveries are made to Alexandria residents only. The charge is $50 for each load (full, or half). Delivery of mulch loads, which equal about six cubic yards (one dump truck load) are scheduled each day Monday through Friday. No deliveries are scheduled on weekends or holidays.
Call 703.746.4357(HELP) to schedule delivery
Please note: Checks must be received prior to delivery, and must be made payable to the City of Alexandria and mailed to: Resource Recovery Division, Attention Mulch, 2900-B Business Center Drive, Alexandria, VA 22314. If you are planning to schedule a delivery, please be prepared to let us know the specific location at which the mulch should be delivered, as it must be left on your property. Mulch cannot be delivered on the street in front of your property or behind it.
**Mulch Disclaimer: Mulch is a natural, unprocessed material that has been stored outside. As a result, it may contain allergens, poison ivy, termites and/or carpenter ants or other foreign matter. Users should wear proper clothing and protection when handling the mulch. The City of Alexandria makes no guarantee concerning the quality of the mulch, and assumes no liability for injury or property damage as a result of the use or delivery of the mulch. Residents who self-haul from the mulch site do so at their own risk.