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Where do the 15,000 tons of leaves in Milwaukee go after they fall?

Posted at 9:23 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 06:21:21-05

MENOMONEE FALLS — This time of year it seems like leaves are everywhere we go. They clog up sidewalks, take up street parking, and just find their way into every nook and cranny. However, cities work hard to clean them up, so where do they go?

Well, for the city of Milwaukee, all 15,000 tons of leaves that fall from trees in autumn go to the Orchard Ridge Landfill operated by Waste Management in Menomonee Falls.

There are rows and rows and rows of leaves, partially decomposed leaves, and full blown compost.

In total, 25,000 tons of leaves come to this facility in Menomonee Falls every year. So what happens to them?

They are all turned into compost. It takes us about four to eight months. However, that's a biologically sped-up process. In nature, they would take much longer, but with 25,000 tons of leaves coming every year, Orchard Ridge doesn't have time to wait.

"There’s a lot of variables that you have to manage you. Vary in feedstocks, moisture, temperature. Also part of the process is making sure part of the compost is heated up for a long enough period of time takes out pathogens, and it also allows the biological process to proceed," Jean Whitish the CEO of Purple Cow Organics said.

Every year 25,000 tons of leaves are brought to the Orchard Ridge Landfill in Menomonee Falls.

Purple Cow Organics helps break down the leaves into rich compost. Then they bag it up and send it to local gardening stores and sell it for larger-scale agricultural projects.

So why is this important, and why can't leaves just blow in the wind.

  1. Leaves can clog city drains.
  2. Leaves contain lots of phosphorus which can contaminate streams, rivers, and lakes.
  3. Leaves can create healthy and rich compost that is good for growing.

"If you think about the food density of what you’re eating and the nutrition that’s in it, the healthier the soil the better the nutrition is that’s going to be in that plant material and the better its going to be for your body ultimately," Whitish said.

Leaves nearing the final steps of the decomposition process.

Plus, imagine 15,000 tons of leaves blowing in the wind around Milwaukee. Not fun.

For Milwaukeeans with leaves still on their sidewalks, there is good news. The city will continue to pick up leaves for the next few weeks.

Here are some proper leaf raking guidelines from Milwaukee:

  • Rake leaves loose into the curb lane
  • Leave a one-foot gap between the leaves and the curb
  • Keep piles away from sewer grates, storm drains, and low hanging trees
  • Include yard debris such as flowers, garden trimmings, and weeds on top of leaf piles
  • Do not include grass clippings, pumpkins, brush, litter, or bagged material

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