Yard waste such as brush, chipped wood, leaves, and grass clippings, takes up expensive space in municipal landfills when it could be recycled and composted into valuable mulch and soil amendments. Many municipalities across the United States regulate the disposal of yard waste, including placing restrictions on compost bin siting and maintenance, imposing requirements for curbside pick-up and limiting or prohibiting burning.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends composting as part of an environmentally sound waste management program. Municipal zoning and land use laws may restrict or regulate the size, location and maintenance of home composting. Compost bins may qualify as 'structures' requiring a zoning permit in some areas, and town land use regulations may require compost bins to be placed at some distance from the lot lines to avoid disturbing neighbors with compost odor or nuisance animals.
Excessive odor or vermin may also violate local and state health regulations, resulting in fines and orders to remove the compost pile. Keeping your compost pile reasonably-sized and well turned and tended will avoid most regulatory entanglements, but check your local laws to ensure your compliance.
Communities with either municipal or private-hauler curb-side garbage pickup often require yard waste to be specially packaged and labeled, so that the garbage hauler can appropriately direct it to recycling facilities. City of New York Department of Sanitation Regulations require that seasonal yard waste, like lawn clippings or raked leaves, be placed in marked paper lawn and leaf bags, or in trash cans without any bag liners, to be taken to composting facilities. Brush can be tied in tight bundles and left beside the trash cans.
However, New York City and many other municipalities often adopt temporary yard waste disposal measures to deal with pending ecological conditions such as the spread of Asian Longhorned Beetle, tent caterpillars or various diseases. These ecological control measures may temporarily override or alter curbside yard waste pick-up regulations, so check with your sanitation department regularly to ensure you comply with the current rules.
Many municipalities have regulations which limit or prohibit open burning of yard waste, such as leaves and brush. In the Puget Sound area, for example, most open burning is prohibited, although certain contained fires may be allowed for religious ceremonial or agricultural purposes, with a permit from the local fire district. Almost every community in the United States either bans burning or requires a permit, which may be denied during times of dry or windy weather. According to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, such regulations and restrictions are necessary because smoke from burning leaves and brush is as dangerous a pollutant as cigarette smoke.