So What Harm Could it Do?
Posted on February 1, 2021 7:00 AM by Landscape Advisory Committee
So you decided it’s time to clean your yard or patio, and now you have a pile of clippings and maybe some potted plants or shrubs you want to dispose of and so you follow James City County’s recommendations and dispose of them properly. But there are some who just don’t feel like you, and want to dispose of them differently. What to do? So maybe they haul it down the street to the neighborhood woods and dump it there. They figure that it’s natural, so what harm could it do? The answer is, it is not exactly natural, and therefore, it is likely to be harmful to the environment and, therefore, also illegal. Now certainly not everyone takes the approach to dispose of plant materials in the woods, sometimes it’s someone driving through our neighborhood that may be doing it. Our woods and BMP areas are important features and amenities for us to enjoy and a naturalistic area for abundant wildlife here.
Discarded materials often contain pesticides and fertilizers that were applied to the yard. Pesticides intended for lawn grubs and other pests can also kill beneficial insects, fish and other wildlife if the contaminated grass or soil is moved to their habitat. Chemicals used on commercially purchased Christmas trees to keep them looking fresh longer may sicken deer and rabbits if the trees are dumped after the holiday. Lawn fertilizer may seem beneficial for a natural area, but even small amounts will disrupt the natural balance of nutrients in the environment. Any materials that are dumped can wash downhill into local waterways, carrying poisonous chemicals and excess nutrients to aquatic life.
Ornamental plantings can become invasive if moved to a new area. A natural area should support only native plant species. It can become a constant battle and an expensive one, to keep nonnative species out of the woods. If people dump house and yard plants (even broken pieces) in the woods, the new species may start growing out of control.
Organic waste may contain plant diseases or insects that can destroy native life. Pet wastes may contain bacteria, such as E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria that can sicken wild animals and people. Often the wastes wash downhill into streams and ponds during heavy rain falls and contaminate the water.
Piles of excess rotting vegetation in water bodies use oxygen normally found in the water, stealing it from aquatic life, which then die. Piles of some yard debris eliminate natural homes for wildlife. Furthermore, the dumped piles are unsightly. For these reasons, it is illegal to dispose of plant and animal materials on public lands that are not specifically designated for this purpose. Some areas have signs posted that say “No Dumping.” This includes yard debris. Our woods actually have signs that say not to remove plant materials, so it makes sense not to add anything to it either.