Dear Umbra,

Your recent column seemed to be discussing mostly the burning of trash. What about yard waste? Each year I pull out tons of non-native and invasive honeysuckle. There is far too much to take to a landfill, and it would take years to rot down if left in some kind of compost pile. I know the burn gives off some CO2, but I honestly don’t know what else I can do. Does your “prohibition” extend equally to this kind of burning?

Bruce Scott
Columbus, Ohio

Dearest Bruce,

It’s not my prohibition, and I’m not sure why you put prohibition in quotes. I am confused by you, and you are confused by me. How will we ever know world peace when even a writer and a reader cannot understand one another? I did not say enough about what entails “burning” and “backyard burning” — let me try to be more complete.

His crime? Weed burning … no, not that kind!

Photo: iStockphoto

The only true prohibiting happens on the part of your local and/or state governments. To find out about yard waste burning in Columbus, I first went to EPA HQ, then clicked on Ohio and landed in an amply prohibitive Q&A page. There are restricted areas and burn situations all over the state, including in municipal areas, so you’ll definitely need to look up Columbus’ status. Interesting digression from main topic: burning dead animals is never allowed in Ohio, but using fires to keep striking workers warm is always allowed. The rest of you should look up your state environmental protection agency. You may be surprised about their opinions and regulations.

Planet-warming carbon dioxide is not the main concern expressed by your friendly Ohio regulators; the trouble is the general air pollution. Everything I’ve said about low-heat fires, smoldering, ground-level air pollution, and human health applies to any type of backyard burning.

Commercial hauling can be costly in terms of cash, but here is where I point out that backyard burning can be costly in terms of your health. (I know it sounds like that came from a can labeled “Eco-Column Bromide,” so I’ll just use the whole can and point out, apropos of nothing, that we all need to reduce our single-occupancy car trips.) Costs aside, backyard burning may be illegal and get you in the clink! Enabling the honeysuckle to completely smother your yard while you smolder away behind bars.

The government truly does not want you to burn anything in your yard. The government does not want you to burn wood indoors if your stove is inefficient. There is no way around this plain talk from the EPA.

What to do with your piles of invasives, and what should other readers do with piles of tree prunings and fallen limbs? It is a dilemma. Ohio solid-waste landfills do not accept yard waste for disposal — it is prohibited. Either you (plural) find a hauler and disposer of yard wastes such as a composting facility or an exempted landfill, or you create your own private composting facility.

Yes, I mean the dreaded pile of rotting invasives in the corner of the yard. The pile will eventually rot — though it might indeed take years — and your yard will be more of a closed system. Others of you wrote in about large tree limbs left from pruning or weather events. These could be cut up and burned to warm striking workers, or put through a rented or borrowed chipper-shredder, turned to mulch, and spread on your yard or the yard of thankful neighbors. Chipping services will no doubt be happy to shred and haul your tree limbs for a fee.

I’m imaginative in general, but in this case I think paying to have your yard waste hauled or finding a way to keep it — through piling or shredding — are your only choices. It is a bitter pill to pay someone to haul our yard waste after doing the rest of our yard work with our own two hands, but our modern tidy-yard sensibility makes it hard to keep piles of “waste” in our yard scheme. Do consider breaking with your own habits and creating a “wild pile” in a corner of your land or garden if you have the room.

Suckily,
Umbra