Composting & Landscaping

Illinois regulations prohibit landscape waste from being accepted at landfills. Depending on your location and the type of materials, options for managing landscape waste may include the following.

Recycling Landscape Material

Landscape recycling not only eliminates the cost, fuel consumption and carbon emissions of transporting bags and bundles of landscape material but provides nutrient-rich resources for the home landscape. Best practices for recycling landscape waste at home include composting, leaving grass clippings on the lawn, mulching leaves and chipping woody material.

Closing the Landscape Loop

recycling symbol on the grassMany residents are opting out of having their landscape waste hauled off but are instead recycling some, or even all, of their landscape resources at home. Landscape resources, such as trimmings, grass clippings, and fallen leaves, have the potential to provide nutrients to growing plants and increase the soil’s water retention while suppressing weeds and cutting down the need for chemical treatments. Depending on the desired use of your landscape resources, a little more work may be involved, such as starting a composting area, or perhaps, a lot less work such as skipping the task of bagging grass clippings.

The urban myth that grass clippings cause thatch build-up is not true. Thatch is primarily composed of grass parts that contain slowly decomposing lignin. Lignin is predominantly present in the lower portions of the grass plant, not at the top of the shoot. Grass clippings break down on the lawn within a few days and release nutrients back into the soil. Up to 4 pounds of usable organic nitrogen, a pound of phosphorous and three pounds of potassium are in 100 pounds of grass clippings. In fact, 25% of your lawn’s fertilizer needs can be met by leaving grass clippings on the lawn, reducing the need for supplemental fertilizers.

For a healthy lawn:

  • Mow when the grass is dry to allow an even dispersion of discharged grass clippings
  • Set your lawnmower deck high to encourage deeper roots and defend against weeds
  • Keep the mower blade sharp and consider using a mulching blade
  • Limit chemical use to allow beneficial organisms to thrive in the soil
  • Apply excesses of chemical-free clippings in a thin layer over your garden and plant beds

Recycling Leaves

handful of fall leaves

For large volumes of leaves, a multi-faceted approach is best. The best options include:

  • Let some leaves rest around the base of plants to serve as mulch
  • Regularly mow over dry leaves, leaving them on the grass
  • Shred leaves with a mower, then apply thin layers around plants, work into garden soil, or add to the compost pile

Recycling Limbs, Branches & Woody Material

  • Incorporate layers of woodchips or materials of less than ½-inch diameter in your compost pile
  • Contact a professional tree service to chip the material

landscape waste in yard waste bags on a curbCurbside Pick-up of Landscape Waste

Curbside services vary by individual waste haulers, municipal contracts, and seasonal schedules. Check with your waste hauler or municipality for details in your area. City of Decatur residents may visit the City’s recycling website or contact the City’s Neighborhood Services Department at 217-424-2784 for further details.

For curbside collection of landscape waste, the following guidelines are recommended.

  • Remove litter from the landscape waste.
  • Place landscape materials in paper bags or, if allowed by your hauler, dedicated containers.
  • Fill bags with a weight of no more than 35 pounds.
  • Tie together limbs and branches in bundles of less than 48 inches in length (if accepted by hauler).
  • Place containers, paper bags and bundles within 3 feet of the curb before 6:00 a.m. on collection day.

Self-Hauling to a Compost Facility

Landscape waste may be dropped off at one of the permitted compost facilities within Macon County.

Decatur Composting, Inc.
3680 N. Bearsdale Road, Decatur
Telephone: 217-853-2204
Operated by Jeff Rhodes
Open by appointment

Macon County Composting Facility
3520 N. Bearsdale Road, Decatur
Telephone: 217-424-1626
Operated by Evans Recycling, Murrayville, IL
Open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday hours vary by season.

Composting at Home

compost pileComposting accelerates the decomposition of biodegradable materials through a natural heating process, activated by beneficial microbes. The process results in a humus-like product that is applied to garden soil surfaces or used as a soil amendment that:

  • Provides nutrients and trace minerals to growing plants over an extended period
  • Retains soil moisture for plant uptake over time
  • Encourages beneficial microbial activity in the soil
  • Forms air spaces in the soil for oxygen
  • Neutralizes soil pH
  • Reduces the need for fertilizers and chemical treatments
  • Improves structure of soils high in clay or sand

The structure of the composting unit is left to your imagination and material availability. Consider a loose pile, a vented container, untreated wooden bins, wire cages or a tumbling unit. A cubic yard of material will ensure enough mass is present to maintain ideal temperatures, although some manufactured composting units are efficiently designed to contain less capacity.

A good mix of materials, oxygen, and moisture will allow beneficial microbes to flourish, causing heat for the accelerated decomposition of the source material. Once the material reaches warm temperatures, it will cool down. Mixing the contents will reintroduce oxygen into the material, allowing the contents to reheat for faster decomposition and keeping odors in check.

Here are some more tips to composting at home.

Batch Compost Recipe


  • Brown carbon-rich materials such as leaves, dried vegetation, straw, untreated sawdust, untreated paper.
  • Green nitrogen-rich materials such as untreated grass clippings, plant trimmings, fruit & vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds
  1. Mix 25-30 parts of chopped or shredded brown material with 1 part green material.
  2. Cover with a thin layer of soil to reduce odors.
  3. Keep the moisture level similar to a wrung-out sponge.
  4. Let ingredients rest a few days to heat to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit naturally.
  5. When material cools, mix and cover with a thin layer of soil.
  6. Repeat the previous two steps until the batch is finished with a dark, crumbly appearance and sweet, earthy aroma.


Burning of Landscape Waste

The burning of on-site generated landscape waste is permitted except in areas, such as the City of Decatur, where a burn ban is in place. If burning is allowed in your area, please:

  • Consider others with respiratory health concerns.
  • Refrain from burning wet or damp materials or during unfavorable wind conditions.
  • Notify your local fire department.