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Snuff Out Open Burning

Each fall turns our Indiana foliage into a glowing blaze of fiery red, yellow, and orange. While it may be tempting to fuel the autumn flame by setting literal fire to leaves once they fall to the ground...don’t.

Open burning comes with health and environmental risks with impacts that go beyond your backyard. It’s actually illegal to burn leaves in Marion County, and community ordinances in much of Central Indiana prohibit it also. Check with your local authority to find open burning rules for your community.

Open burning releases pollutants, including PM2.5, that can lead to a number of health problems. PM2.5 is a classified carcinogen, and smoke from open burning can exacerbate symptoms for people with asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, or allergies. Smoke from burning only five pounds of leaves produces an entire pound of air pollution.

Pollutants from open burning can linger at ground level where they can be breathed in by you, your family, and your neighbors. Once “swept away,” pollutants don’t disappear; they just go on to cause air quality issues elsewhere.

So if you can’t burn leaves, what can you do instead?

First things first, get a good romp out of them. Or at least let your dog or kids. We bet a nickel you take at least one dive yourself.Then...

  • Use them for mulch. Leaves make an excellent blanket for overwintering many perennials. Using a leaf shredder or your lawn mower, shred them into small pieces before spreading them on flower beds. (Whole leaves can mat together and prevent water from reaching plant roots.)
  • Compost them. After six months to a couple years, they’ll turn into leaf mold, a highly prized soil additive rich in essential nutrients. You can spread it across flowerbeds or your garden.
  • Mow over them several times in the yard and let them be. Come spring time your lawn will have a hearty fertilizer to give it a jump start.
  • If you can’t use them for compost, stuff leaves in bags (shred them first to fit more in each bag) and dispose of them with your garbage. Guidelines for leaf disposal will vary by community. You can find the Marion County guidelines here.

Learn more about open burning and its effects on air quality here.