Debbie Gibbs: What to do with green waste? |

Debbie Gibbs: What to do with green waste?

Is there an alternative to burn piles for vegetation removal? Our skies are hazy as residents in unincorporated Nevada County incinerate their vegetation. Inhale at your own risk these days. This year has the lowest moisture content ever recorded for this date, so soon the annual burning window will close.

But the debate is hot. Some claim a small burn pile on your property on a windless day with a hose at ready, reduces wildfire vulnerability. But often property owners lose control of burn piles. Even the experienced are caught off-guard with an errant gust of wind, and then, yikes! Our diligent, tax-supported fire department must step in then.

While fire safety must be paramount, there is a thoughtful path in between that no doubt requires a little more effort than burning but is kinder to our lungs and the environment.

For city dwellers, the issue is easy: The green waste curbside pickup is a good deal. Cut and toss in the bin. Or use low-carbon-footprint electric leaf shredders and wood chippers that greatly reduce the volume of material to a nice, compostable pile. Hooray, less purchase of mulch and compost and fewer of those awful plastic bags that never decompose.

For everyone else, if you have a large yard and/or acreage outside the city limits, vegetation removal becomes more daunting. Nonetheless, with determination you can gather organic waste for a second life instead of sending it up in inhalable smoke particles and carbon emissions. Here are some options that require some loppers, a saw, and maybe some hired help.


According to the John Muir Project, studies suggest that a dead pine tree is less flammable than a live tree, as the combustible oil is reduced as the tree decomposes. And snags, or wildlife trees, are ecologically important for good forest health.

Mother Earth News reported: “In North America, about 85 species of birds, at least 50 mammal species, and roughly a dozen reptiles and amphibians rely on snags for shelter, food, mating, resting, nesting and other critical functions. In addition, dozens of invertebrates — millipedes, beetles, spiders, worms, ants and more. In all, says the U.S. Forest Service, some 1,200 forms of fauna rely on dead, dying or rotted-hollow trees.”

However, we face a dilemma. In our dry environment, snags are flammable and add to the fuel load. Certainly within 100 feet of your house, any dead wood is a risky deal.


Want to save scarce water? Then consider “hugel mounds,” which are constructed by burying or piling logs directly on the ground, adding branches, plant waste, compost. Then add additional soil to make an earthen mound into which you can plant directly.


If you have a woodstove or fireplace insert that meets the California strict standard for emission control, burning your wood in the winter reduces your heating bill. Save sticks from small branches for kindling. Then you can have an eco-friendly burn when you really need the warmth.


If a tree service helps you cut trees and brush, they are happy to pile the chips on your property. Fire Safe has a terrific wood chipping service, so if you stack your brush carefully at an accessible location, the crew will chip and leave a pile or take the chips away.

Fire Safe does suggest keeping mulch 30 feet away from structures. When decomposed, these chips are a terrific planting medium to use for less flammable native plants to adorn our yards and support the insects and wildlife that depend on native plants for food and shelter.


If you really can’t find a place for the green bounty, use Fire Safe’s green waste drop off. Plus, if you need mulch, take your old plastic mulch bags and refill them at the same location after it’s chipped:

Free green waste disposal: May 21-24 and June 11-16 at 12625 Brunswick Road, Grass Valley, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday to Monday.

Free mulch pickup: May 28-29 and June 18-19 at 12625 Brunswick Road, Grass Valley, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

If you miss these dates, you can haul green waste to the Waste Management McCourtney Road Transfer Station, but it isn’t free. Fortunately, that green waste is trucked to a processor for chips, so it has a second life.

We have many technologies and tools for using green waste. So before you burn, think about the rewards of green waste, and we will all breathe easier.

Debbie Gibbs, of Nevada City, is a member of the Nevada County Climate Action Now group and the WasteNOT recycling team.

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