Loose leaf collection - should this program continue?

Consultation has concluded.

In addition to the Region of Waterloo's yard waste collection service (where bagged leaves, grass clippings, etc., are collected from March to November), the city collects loose leaves that have fallen from boulevard trees or have been raked onto streets. Historically, the intention of this service is to remove leaves from roadways so they don't create blockages in and around storm drains. It's been the city's practice to extend this service to include leaves from residential properties that are raked to the roadside.

The challenge

Timing: In recent years, the timing of the leaf collection service has not matched the times leaves have actually fallen. Tree species drop their leaves at different times and increasingly unpredictable weather conditions can alter this timing or slow the collection process if leaves become wet or frozen. Leaves left on the road for a longer period can create flooding issues and hazards for cyclists using the roadway.

Resources: The same staff and fleet resources used for leaf collection are also used for winter control (e.g., road plowing and salting), as well as winter-readiness activities such as asphalt and sidewalk repair. Shifting this team to leaf collection each fall takes time away from preparing transportation routes for winter. Erratic weather, such as early snowfalls, require the fleet to be modified from leaf collection to snow removal in the midst of leaf collection service. Leaves covered in snow or frozen to the ground take longer to remove, while snow plowing is also less effective when leaves are present on the roadside (e.g., it's more difficult to plow roads to the curb edge as it may be obstructed with leaves).

Budget: In light of these challenges, the leaf collection program has been over budget and additional funding was requested through the 2019 budget process. While additional funds could alleviate some of the pressures, depending on the weather, it will not necessarily remove the conflict between winter operations and loose leaf collection.

Environment: Leaving leaves on the ground can support backyard biodiversity by providing important habitat for animals such as toads, frogs and pollinators. In addition, mulching leaves serves as an excellent source of fertilization that results in a healthy green lawn. To mulch leaves, remove the grass catcher unit from the mower and mow over the leaves to create a fine mulch. Mow fallen leaves about once a week until they finish falling. When spring arrives, the mulched leaves will have disappeared. Whole leaves can also be raked onto garden beds for fertilization and to provide a habitat for toads, frogs and pollinators.

Tell us what you think!

Waterloo's city council has requested a review of the leaf collection program. Your input will assist our council in making a more informed decision. In June, 2019, city council will decide on one of the following three options:

  1. Continue to visit each of the 19 leaf collection zones at least once, dependent on weather. Service would continue as usual with no change to the existing program. Council has approved a $25,000 funding increase for 2019 to cover added costs associated with the program and funding requests would continue to be made through the budget process to address rising program costs.
  2. Provide leaf collection in matured treed areas only. Loose leaf collection would continue only in the areas with a mature tree classification (see grey area indicated on map). Area classifications and boundaries would change over time as trees mature and staff would review the collection areas every four years in alignment with our budgeting process. This option allows staff to localize efforts, resulting in operational efficiencies. Initially, no additional budget would be required.
  3. Discontinue the loose leaf collection program. Residents would be required to collect, dispose and/or compost leaves from their property and the boulevard and would no longer be permitted to rake leaves from boulevard trees to the curbside. Some of the current leaf collection budget would still be required to complete catch basin clearing in problem (heavily treed) areas.

Please take our short survey below and/or share your comments and tell us what you believe is the best option.

In addition to the Region of Waterloo's yard waste collection service (where bagged leaves, grass clippings, etc., are collected from March to November), the city collects loose leaves that have fallen from boulevard trees or have been raked onto streets. Historically, the intention of this service is to remove leaves from roadways so they don't create blockages in and around storm drains. It's been the city's practice to extend this service to include leaves from residential properties that are raked to the roadside.

The challenge

Timing: In recent years, the timing of the leaf collection service has not matched the times leaves have actually fallen. Tree species drop their leaves at different times and increasingly unpredictable weather conditions can alter this timing or slow the collection process if leaves become wet or frozen. Leaves left on the road for a longer period can create flooding issues and hazards for cyclists using the roadway.

Resources: The same staff and fleet resources used for leaf collection are also used for winter control (e.g., road plowing and salting), as well as winter-readiness activities such as asphalt and sidewalk repair. Shifting this team to leaf collection each fall takes time away from preparing transportation routes for winter. Erratic weather, such as early snowfalls, require the fleet to be modified from leaf collection to snow removal in the midst of leaf collection service. Leaves covered in snow or frozen to the ground take longer to remove, while snow plowing is also less effective when leaves are present on the roadside (e.g., it's more difficult to plow roads to the curb edge as it may be obstructed with leaves).

Budget: In light of these challenges, the leaf collection program has been over budget and additional funding was requested through the 2019 budget process. While additional funds could alleviate some of the pressures, depending on the weather, it will not necessarily remove the conflict between winter operations and loose leaf collection.

Environment: Leaving leaves on the ground can support backyard biodiversity by providing important habitat for animals such as toads, frogs and pollinators. In addition, mulching leaves serves as an excellent source of fertilization that results in a healthy green lawn. To mulch leaves, remove the grass catcher unit from the mower and mow over the leaves to create a fine mulch. Mow fallen leaves about once a week until they finish falling. When spring arrives, the mulched leaves will have disappeared. Whole leaves can also be raked onto garden beds for fertilization and to provide a habitat for toads, frogs and pollinators.

Tell us what you think!

Waterloo's city council has requested a review of the leaf collection program. Your input will assist our council in making a more informed decision. In June, 2019, city council will decide on one of the following three options:

  1. Continue to visit each of the 19 leaf collection zones at least once, dependent on weather. Service would continue as usual with no change to the existing program. Council has approved a $25,000 funding increase for 2019 to cover added costs associated with the program and funding requests would continue to be made through the budget process to address rising program costs.
  2. Provide leaf collection in matured treed areas only. Loose leaf collection would continue only in the areas with a mature tree classification (see grey area indicated on map). Area classifications and boundaries would change over time as trees mature and staff would review the collection areas every four years in alignment with our budgeting process. This option allows staff to localize efforts, resulting in operational efficiencies. Initially, no additional budget would be required.
  3. Discontinue the loose leaf collection program. Residents would be required to collect, dispose and/or compost leaves from their property and the boulevard and would no longer be permitted to rake leaves from boulevard trees to the curbside. Some of the current leaf collection budget would still be required to complete catch basin clearing in problem (heavily treed) areas.

Please take our short survey below and/or share your comments and tell us what you believe is the best option.

Please share your comments regarding loose leaf collection.
CLOSED: This discussion has concluded.

I greatly appreciate the leaf collection, but because it occurs only once per season, it often is not timed well in accordance with leaf fall. The inconsistent timing and occasional return visits of the leaf truck encourages residents to rake their leaves onto the street in the hopes that the truck will return. This creates a significant amount of leaf debris over winter and it interferes with cyclists (wet leaves are slippery) and clogs storm sewers. I feel that if we can't afford multiple leaf pick ups per area, we should abandon the program all together.

MLee 4 months ago

Although I have enjoyed the leaf collection myself, I feel the cost is too high both in budget and the risk to cyclists and the tendency to leave rotting leaves on the road all winter due to mistiming with the subsequent increased risk of flooding. Not worth it.

DavidT 5 months ago

I think the City should take responsibility to pick up leaves from City-owned trees, but homeowners should not expect the City to deal with leaves from privately-owned trees. We also need to recognize that the overall tree canopy is important to the City as a whole, which supports my vote for Option 2.

Uptowner 5 months ago

First, let me say that if leaf collection cutbacks become absolutely necessary, then it seems logical that newer areas with smaller, immature trees and much fewer leaves should be the first to have mandatory bagging and even residents responsible for removal or/and composting. As the region continues to expand and grow, tax money may be better spent in maintenance of infrastructure than on leaf collection. In recent years the affects of climate change has influenced the timing of trees dropping their leaves in the fall. No argument there. I understand the problem that the city/region has been having in trying to apply old planning to a new problem. Maybe that's part of the problem. For instance, new planning might look at the various parts of the city and the types of trees that are planted. These records are used by the city arborists so why not other departments. Clearly, some trees are prone to holding onto their leaves much longer than other species. So, plan leaf collection appropriately. Collection doesn't need to be done sequentially by area. It doesn't matter in which direction the trucks drive each morning, only that the records are kept and used in planning collection the next day and week. I believe this approach will solve some of the problem but not all of it. As well, if current equipment available for the task is prone to breaking down, then alternative action must be used. The front end loaders followed by street sweeping seems to work fairly well and appears to require about the same time and manpower. However, when mother nature succeeds in a total lack of cooperation, and especially if there are leaves left at the curb after the time when trucks must be readied for winter plowing, I don't see the problem with residents bagging their left over leaves and either putting them out for pick up by city trucks or transporting them in bags to local dumping sites where they can be removed by the city. Communication to residents must be better at this point than it has been in the past. For me it simply becomes a matter of blending tax dollar spending, which we can control, with the demands put on us by mother nature.I assume that manpower availability is an issue for the city. If so then another suggestion might be to use the abundance of excellent talent available from the retired community and ask for volunteers to help with the planning, communication etc. processes. You might be surprised at the outcome. I think that most citizens would prefer to give a little volunteer time over suffering more taxes.Good luck with this effort. It looks like you are getting some really good suggestions and comments.

Kenni D 5 months ago

It is always an easy fix to abandon a service and leave it to the public to deal with what come may on their property. The problem is, and particularly in very leafy areas, that much of what falls cannot be processed at the property and thus needs to be either picked up or bagged and transported. At best, what is a city problem becomes a regional problem as the task is uploaded to the region, albeit with labour by property owners to do the bagging while regional collectors pick it up and carry it away. At worst, you get a lot of private vehicles going back and forth to drop off leaves at the regional facilities.There would be no savings to the average taxpayer, just a reshuffling who does what thus diminishing the relevance of the city in taxpayers' eyes.With better communication, the task to have the leaves ready for pickup by the city would be timely. A four-week window is not a timely pickup schedule. From what I have been given to understand, the leaf pickup vacuuming equipment is not up to the task, breaks down frequently and forces the city to press into service a less efficient pickup methods such as using front end loaders and street sweepers.Perhaps areas like new subdivisions that have no leaf problem could be dropped for the moment, but if the city wishes to have a good canopy that helps absorb carbon, helps keep neighborhoods cooler and provide more habitat for urban wildlife, it should continue to support homeowners by providing the leaf pickup service. By dumping all the problem on to property owners, it signals that trees aren't that important and homeowners shouldn't plant them or should remove them in order to avoid an annual problem.One last suggestion is that once leaf collection has finished, property owners be advised to remove the remaining leaves from the curb and find an alternate method of processing or disposal, possibly through creation of a new bylaw complemented with active enforcement. That would avoid problems of clogged drains, slippery roads, and the big mass of what neighbors left on the street that was plowed into my driveway after the first snowfall. The city and my neighbors left the problem of a heavy and icy mess for me to deal with and an irate spouse calling all manner of city bureaucrats only to be told that the problem was out of their hands. We can and should do better both on the civic front and as neighbors.

Yves 5 months ago

Some flexibility should be built into the leaf pickup programme. Perhaps some equipment could be used for late-falling leaves in targeted areas. Our street has such trees. the leaves don't fall until the middle of November (and have not, since the trees matured). The service should take into account this situation. This year is the first year since I have lived on our street (47 years) that late leaves have not been removed. Often, in the past, a front-end loader and dump truck have made a late-season pickup. That has been much appreciated. This year, with the light snow in Dec and Jan this could have been accomplished, but it wasn't. The needed equipment wasn't needed for snow piles so maybe there could be some flexibility in dispatching a loader and truck or whatever, which are not needed for snow. Our street is still a mess. Please think about this. The leaves from our trees fall all within a couple of days in the middle of November (as you have noted), depending on weather. Loose leaf pickup is a wonderful service. Thanks for letting me say my piece.

David C 5 months ago

We pay taxes. A LOT in taxes. The city dropped the ball by saying leaves were to be raked to the curb no later than Nov. 23 then refused to pick them up, saying we were too late. We did our part as citizens and met their deadline. They did not. They left the leaves to gather at the curb of our corner lot (from many other houses as we live at the bottom of a hill). The leaves clogged storm drains, flooded our driveway when snow melted then resulted in a skating rink when it froze again. The piles of leaves hardened, and when combined with all the snow and ice that formed from two winter storms, with NO snowplough ploughing our street, I'm sure you could imagine the depth of the ruts, even causing a school bus to crash into a tree. Now the leaves are a rotting, stinking mess. I am not willing to donate more of our money to disposing of the leaves that belong to trees that are owned by the city and not have them maintain anything in our neighbourhood. We maintain their property as residents they need to do what’s right for their tax paying citizens.

TL 5 months ago

I believe that the program should begin later in the season(So i am assuming would incur no additional costs), and perhaps be scheduled a second time in mature areas but soon after the delayed initial collection takes place... We paid to have leaves removed to a landfill and still have quite a mess to now collect and bag for collection on yard waste days. I would be glad to speak with someone if the above comments are unclear, and do not think this would interfere with snow removal

Joanne duggan 5 months ago

Leaf collection should be done when the leaves are off the trees. In 2018 the leaf collection was done when the leaves were still on the trees. Consequently large piles of leaves were raked into the curbs by residents after the leaf collection. These leaves were left to rot roadside all winter resulting in a big mess.The snow plough dumped large piles of wet leaves in front of our driveway which then froze and caused a problem .

jweller 5 months ago

When you live at a bend on the street where the wind blows you end up with everyone’s leaves all over your lawn and driveway that people have left at the curb. This creates endless work and frustration. Bagging and mulching leaves is most preferable for us! On top of the constant work, leaves left on the boulevard easily clog drains and create water buildup and ice. Allergies are also an issue as damp, wet leaves mould and pollute the air.

RBS 6 months ago

I don't know the solution. What I do know is I see more and more people dumping yard waste in parks and trails that border homes. It is unsightly and unsafe. It seems people feel entitled to dump their yard waste on public land. They blow their leaves onto bordering parks. Even when the city asks them not to continue dumping they defiantly ignore the city requests. No dumping signs are ignored. If the city were to discontinue the leaf pick up service I'm sure this problem would only increase.

A walker 6 months ago

Discontinue roadside leaf collection. Leaves racked onto the road are a hazard. When wet they are slippery for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, they block storm drains, When dry they blow all over the neighbourhood.

Mark 6 months ago

I find it to be a never ending battle when leaves are raked to the curb because they just continue to blow around. On another point, every citizen within Waterloo should have the same service. If one resident has to bag their leaves, everyone should have to bag their leaves. If providing curb side service, this should also be provided to every street as everyone has a tree on their boulevard.

Deaf Ears 6 months ago

Our half acre matured lot in Waterloo is beautiful and one of a kind. We maintain our trees and lot very well. We have been for years raking our leaves to the curb side. Yes it is true that sometimes the fall is wet or snowy etc. It’s called Canadian weather. It is unpredictable. Mulching our leaves would be near impossible as at times it would be a carpet across our yard. Bagging the leaves would be rediculous as we would easily use over 100 bags and added waste to our landfill site. Also the city workers would be injured with repetitive motion strain. We vote for #2 . X&R

X 6 months ago

I would prefer that homeowners look after disposing of their own leaves. We have had many years of leaves blocking the drains and creating huge pools or ice patches at the end of our driveway. As the parent of someone who has a child with a disability, who catches a bus each day at the end of the driveway this has been problematic. The drain is located four doors down and I have had to rake the leaves away from the curb in front of the four neighbour’s homes. Often the leaves are wet and heavy so it is a big task for a sixty-something woman. My neighbours are good people but they do not always see how challenging this situation can be.Each of us bagging our own leaves would certainly solve this problem for my family.

Sk 6 months ago

Requiring citizens to spend money on paper bags does no more to help reduce the uncertainty with loose leaf collection. For 150K annually, this program is extremely inexpensive (less than 2$ per person). Spending money on extra paper is wasteful and will likely overburden the yard waste collection system. Keep loose leaf collection, in fact, expand it to serve areas (especially matured areas) far more frequently.

SMC 6 months ago

This winter the first major snowfall in November came *before* the leaf pickup for my neighbourhood, so my yard is still covered with leaves that will be harder to clean up in the spring. This isn't the first time that's happened either. Consider the changing climate and extreme weather events when planning leaf pickup dates.

goggolor 6 months ago

People need to be encouraged to mulch their leaves like most other cities in Ontario/Canada do. We’ve appreciated the collection for the many years we’ve lived here (+26) but we also know that our lawn was fine with the mulched leaves feeding it throughout the winter before the program began and before we moved here.

Maubeeteach 6 months ago