Less Mowing, Less Waste

I recently bought a mulching lawn mower that does a nice job of cutting and grasscycling the grass in my front yard. And I mow part of my backyard, but not all of it. In fact, I may quit mowing my backyard completely. After all, by not mowing it, by letting the grass grow, aren't I committing an act of source reduction?

Having grown up in the tallgrass prairie country of Oklahoma, I don't understand our national obsession with closely cropped lawns. The section of my backyard that I haven't mowed already is sprouting some impressive leaves of grass, some of which reach my bellybutton. My grass is lush, verdant and teems with diversity not found in a typical, boring flattop lawn. I love it.

I'm more than willing to mow my front yard to keep the peace with my neighbors. But why should I mow my backyard? My family and I are front yard people who have never used our backyard much. And potential home-buyers in the neighborhood don't see my backyard, so I can't be accused of driving property values down by letting my grass reach its full potential.

Of course, the county I live in has rules against everything, including not mowing the lawn. But if they try to force me to cut my backyard grass, I simply will argue that I am complying with the county's solid waste policy.

You see, source reduction is at the top of my county's solid waste management hierarchy. As a matter of official government policy, the county council decided that it's more important to not create waste than to create stuff to be recycled, composted or disposed. So, the only way my backyard could be more conducive to source reduction would be if I paved it or turned it into a rock garden. And I'm sure that if I paved it, I'd be accused of contributing to global warming and the rock garden would offend someone.

For more than a decade, I have voluntarily composted the grass clippings from my front and backyard. According to my county, this saved it some money, although the savings were never passed on to me. I also got some extra exercise and a nice soil enhancer for my flower gardens.

Several years ago, my county required its residents to keep our yard waste separate from our trash. For our grass clippings and leaves, we can grasscycle, backyard compost or put everything at the curbside in specially marked containers for disposal in the county compost pile. So I grasscycle my front lawn grass, compost my leaves and put my branches in a yard waste bin.

But grass clippings from my backyard? No way. In fact, the way I see it, if I stop mowing my backyard I'll be saving energy and making a modest contribution to preventing additional accumulation of greenhouse gases. Frankly, I think I deserve a medal, maybe even a tax break for not mowing my backyard.

Now, if I could just find a buffalo to graze in my mini-prairie, the circle would be complete.

The columnist is director, state programs for the Environmental Industry Associations

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: cmiller@envasns.org.