Yard Waste 101: Reduce, Repurpose, Compost

Yard waste does not belong in your garbage bin.

Weeds, leaves, and branches are natural and biodegradable. They end up taking up unnecessary space in landfills around the country. Not to mention when this waste starts to decompose, it releases methane gas and acidic leachate.

In fact, in some jurisdictions, it’s actually banned from landfills. So, if you’re growing a small yard waste collection, what are you supposed to do with it? This handy little guide will hopefully answer that for you.

What is yard waste?

Before we get too far into it, let’s define “yard waste”. Yard waste consists of organic items and material that’s primarily created from maintaining your yard and garden. This can include:

  • Leaves
  • Pesky pulled weeds
  • Wood shavings
  • Dead flowers
  • Pruned branches
  • Garden plants

Most cities have a solid waste management plan to deal with these organic materials. Even still, they sometimes end up in the regular garbage, taking up a significant amount of space in landfills. A big reason for this is that we tend to forget when special yard waste collections are as they vary per municipality. Apps, like GarbageDay, send you reminders so you’ll never forget!

How to dispose of yard waste

None of the organic waste from your yard should make its way into your recycling or regular garbage cans. Instead, most Canadian jurisdictions compost their yard waste.

Disposing of your tree stumps, individual branches, and other organic materials isn’t necessarily challenging but does vary by city across Canada. For example:

  • Calgary accepts it in their green bins so long as they remain under 60 kg.
  • Toronto collects it in kraft paper yard waste bags or rigid bins curbside every other week from March to December.
  • Ottawa accepts grass clippings but doesn’t allow for yard waste to be placed in plastic bags.
  • Vancouver doesn’t collect large or heavy items such as branches or prunings over 10 cm thick and 50 cm long.

To find out whether or not curbside pick-up is available in your city, and how to prep your waste if it is, you can use tools such as WhichBin in the GarbageDay app.

What doesn’t belong with your yard waste?

Not everything belongs in your yard waste for collection — even if it was in your yard in the first place. You want to make sure that everything that ends up in the bag is natural and biodegradable, otherwise it can’t be composted. 

While the acceptable items in yard waste bags might vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in Canada, here are a few things that definitely shouldn’t be included (but often end up there):

  • Golf balls, baseballs, basketballs — pretty much anything with “ball” in the title.
  • Animal waste — this goes in your compost bin (without the plastic bag).
  • Garden tools and flower pots — primarily made of plastic, ceramics or mixed materials.
  • Treated wood — rail ties, fence posts, deck boards.
  • Rubber hoses — most are not pure rubber.
  • Pieces of plastic — from a broken sand shovel to a piece of a sign that your lawn mower chopped up.
  • Plastic bags — should be pretty self-explanatory.

It should also be noted that, in many jurisdictions, bags of yard waste cannot be collected if they are overweight or broken.

While it’s not necessarily hard to break a bag, one avoidable culprit is water. This can not only make your hedge trimmings and tree branches heavier, but can ultimately break the plastic. You can protect your bags by keeping them stored away in a dry indoor setting (like your garage or shed) and only setting them out on yard waste collection day.

Reducing yard waste

Just because you have yard waste, doesn’t mean you need to bag it up and throw it on the curb.

There are plenty of ways you can repurpose and use your yard waste around your home, which can ultimately reduce your overall waste output. From improving your garden to saving time, here are some of the best reduction ideas:


It’s like recycling, but for grass.

Your grass clippings don’t have to be bagged up and thrown out after you’ve cut the lawn. These are also often not collected by yard waste. Allowing them to break down naturally is a great way to have a nicer lawn. This is grasscycling.

When you leave the cut pieces of grass on your lawn, your grass gets extra nitrogen (the most important nutrient for grass to grow) and you also reduce the amount of both fertilizer and water needed.

You can do this with leaves as well. For the best results, go over the leaves with your lawn mower to break them up and help them compost faster — a mulch mower can help with this.

Make leaf mold

Leaf mold is simply composted leaves without anything else added to the mix. While using regular old compost in your soil is great, leaves are a much better soil amendment. Leaf mold:

  • Conditions the soil
  • Increases the soil’s water retention
  • Provides an ideal habitat for earth life
  • Improves the overall structure

But as great as it is, leaf mold isn’t a great source of nutrients and also takes a very long time to make (6 to 12 months). So, if you want to create the best soil, you’ll want to combine leaf mold and old fashioned compost.


Most municipalities compost yard waste, but you don’t have to give all the goods to them. You can make your own compost at home combining your yard waste with food scraps

Composting at home is as simple as setting up a bin, adding natural waste from your yard and garden as it accumulates, and maintaining it. In four to six months, you should have finished compost that you can sprinkle on your lawn, flower bed, and add to other gardening projects

Skip clean-up

Who really wants to do yard work?

Having a clean yard, especially at the end of the season right before the snow falls is overrated. While it might make the neighbourhood look nice, leaving your yard in its natural state during the winter — fallen leaves, twigs and all — makes a better habitat for wildlife, including birds and insects.

So ditch the clean up and go enjoy yourself some hot chocolate instead — maybe you can even watch the birds gather in your yard!

Stoke the fire

Whether you have indoor or outdoor fires (or both, depending on the time of year), your tree limbs, branches, and log waste makes for great fuel. Not to mention, natural wood tends to smell way better.

You’ll want to make sure you store it properly so the wood dries out before you burn it otherwise you won’t have much of a fire. Whether you’re heating your home on a cool night or enjoying the stars fireside, using yard waste saves you money.

Waste in the right place

When yard waste isn’t disposed of correctly, it ends up clogging landfills (which are already packed). So, it’s important to use it in a way that helps, not harms, the environment. For you, that could mean using it yourself or getting it to the right place in your city.

It might seem like a small move (especially if you choose to leave it au naturel) but if everyone took one tiny little step, it could have a big impact. Trying to figure out where different types of waste go and want reminders for special collections such as yard waste? Download the free GarbageDay app and get it sent right to your phone.

Download the GarbageDay app today!​

Never miss your local waste and recycling collection day again! GarbageDay helps keep you up-to-date on your city's collection schedule with timely reminders letting you know which bin to take out as well as tips and tricks to enjoy a more sustainable and eco-friendly home.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.

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