Yard waste includes grass clippings, leaves, and brush (i.e., branches and twigs smaller than 4-feet in length) generated during general yard maintenance. Yard waste does not include materials generated during tree removal, land clearing, or home renovation projects.
History of Yard Waste Management in Fairfax County
Fairfax County has a comprehensive yard waste recycling program for all residential and commercial properties, whereby the county and all contracted waste haulers and landscapers deliver yard waste to a yard waste management facility legally permitted to operate in the state of Virginia. At these facilities yard waste is either composted or mulched for re-distribution or re-sale to the general public or landscape contractors.
Each year the county and private haulers manage more than 208,600 tons of yard waste such as grass clippings, brush, leaves, and branches. You can assist by adopting all or some of the sustainable yard waste management practices suggested below.
How to Manage Yard Waste
- Manage it onsite: Leave grass clippings on your lawn by grasscycling, and/or backyard composting yard waste along with other organics, such as food waste, to enrich your soil and promote healthy plants.
- Set it out for curbside collection*: If you are a county customer, place leaves, grass, or brush in a separate reusable container, or paper lawn bags. Brush and sticks less than 4-feet in length, and weighing less than 40-lbs can be tied in bundles. If a private hauler collects your trash, please follow their instructions for the curbside collection of yard waste.
- Self-haul to a county facility: Yard waste is accepted at the county's I-66 and I-95 waste management complexes for a fee. For more information regarding fees, please visit: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/trash/dispresident.htm
*Please Note: yard waste is collected at curbside year-round, but only processed for recycling from March 1 through December 24. With the exception of Christmas trees, between December 25th and the end of February, the small amount of yard waste generated is disposed of as trash. Christmas trees are collected and recycled the first two weeks in January.
Exceptions to Managing Yard Waste
Large amounts of yard waste & brush: If you are a county customer, please see detailed guidelines in the brochure, Trash and Collection Guidelines for Sanitary Districts. If a private hauler collects your trash, please contact them or a bulk/junk removal company for collection services.
Townhome Communities: Some townhome communities that do not generate a large amount of yard waste may be exempted from county collection requirements by seeking approval of an "alternative yard waste recycling system." For more information about how to qualify and obtain an application, please visit our Recycling Requirements page.
Paper Lawn Bags
When there is no alternative but to dispose of yard waste, please use paper lawn bags. Using paper instead of plastic bags reduces the yard waste facilities' cost for the labor and equipment used to open the bags. It also eliminates the need and cost to remove any small pieces of plastic caused when ripping open the bags either manually or mechanically. Eliminating plastic bags for yard waste collection helps ensure all local yard waste management facilities are providing the end-users the highest-quality end-products for use on residential and commercial lawns and gardens.
- All haulers servicing customers in Fairfax County will be required to pick up yard waste in reusable containers or paper bags starting next year (2017); no plastic bags will be accepted starting July 1, 2017.
- Plastic is currently acceptable (until July 2017), and paper bags have always been acceptable for curbside collection of yard waste.
- Paper bags are typically 30-gallon bags – a good size for yard waste – particularly when using them to collect grass clippings which can be extremely heavy.
- One of the concerns related to using plastic bags for yard waste is worker safety. The county does not pick up any bags weighing more than 50 lbs. Using plastic bags for yard waste increases the likelihood that the bags will be overweight, unstable, and difficult to pick up.
- The county doesn’t provide yard waste bags, whether they’re plastic or paper.
- Other jurisdictions sometimes offer free or subsidized paper bags for yard waste collection. However, when compared with the more than 276,000 homes in Fairfax County, other jurisdictions are much smaller.
- County staff contacted all the major grocery store retailers to confirm they will stock paper yard bags in the future, but the bags are already available at big-box home improvement retailers and most hardware stores.
- The county’s Solid Waste Management Program is self-funded, which means that it operates through fees, not taxes, thus the only way the county could provide free or subsidized paper bags is if it increased fees.
- If you are concerned about the cost of paper bags, the best approach is to mulch grass and leaves and leave it on the lawn, or compost the material on site. It costs nothing, and reduces your labor hauling bags to the curb! It also eliminates the need for the county to manage this material, which means even greater savings on transportation and disposal costs!
- Residents can hire a private company or lawn care provider to vacuum leaves if that is their preference, but the county only provides this service, for a fee, to a small number of households.
Grasscycling simply means leaving grass clippings on the lawn to promote a greener, healthier lawn. Any lawnmower can be used, but mulching lawnmowers cut the grass into smaller pieces and filter them back into the lawn, reducing clippings from clumping together or being tracked into a home or business.
Reasons for encouraging grasscycling:
- Reduces labor for bagging, hauling, and disposing of grass clippings
- Helps reduce worker injuries related to heavy lifting
- Allows worms to do their job, recycling clippings naturally and improving soil quality
- Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers by up to 50% and the cost of maintaining lawn health
- Improves water retention and reduces fertilizer and sediment run-off
- Fall leaves can also be mulched into the lawn rather than bagged and disposed
If your clients are interested in grasscycling you might also be able to encourage and assist them to build a compost pile, or use a compost bin. Composting allows yard waste to decompose into a natural fertilizer that can also be used to maintain healthy lawns and gardens. Building a compost pile or building or providing a commercial compost bin can be another way for your customers to reduce their costs for maintenance. Maintaining an onsite composting system could also be another service you offer clients for a fee.