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Aster flowers in prairie

Aster flowers in a prairie

Contact information
For more information, contact:
Craig Czarnecki
Public information specialist
Air Program

Fall: Do a little, save a lot!

When the sticky humidity of summer gives way to warm days and chilly nights, what better time to think about saving energy? Your home is a great place to start. However, you may also think about ways to save energy and improve air quality as you buy produce, drive to work or go to school.

Here are some choices that you can make to help improve air quality and conserve energy.

Yard care

Autumn yard care

The average adult breathes about 20,000 times each day. Both children and the elderly face a greater risk of being affected by air pollution, as do people with heart, respiratory or other ailments.

Autumn leaves sparkle in the sunlight
Autumn leaves sparkle in the sunlight.

Did you know that burning leaves and other debris generates air pollution, is a health hazard to people with asthma and other allergies, and is a fire hazard and a nuisance to neighbors?

Using yard debris at home saves the tax dollars spent to collect and process leaves, cuttings and clippings while reusing natural materials to beautify one's yard.

Fall is an excellent time of year to start composting, or for those who already compost, to think about improvements. There are good alternatives to open burning. Effective yard care reduces waste and recycles organic materials. It also gives the air a break from the hazardous pollutants that burning releases.

Seven simple alternatives to open burning

Man pushing a mulching lawn mower
Mulching leaves returns nutrients to the soil while it reduces air pollution.

1. Mulching leaves in place. Leaves are rich in carbon, phosphorus, and potassium all essential nutrients needed by plants, including turf grasses. Simply mow leaves along with the grass during fall, and let the small leaf pieces filter down among the grass blades.

2. Composting is a natural recycling process that can be done at home with lawn and garden waste. Microorganisms from the soil interact with compost materials to help break down plant matter. Proper moisture, air and temperature aid these microorganisms in their work. Finished compost is used as an organic plant food and soil amendment.

Tip: Save those coffee grinds! Coffee beans release lots of nitrogen into the soil and nitrogen is something plants love! Sprinkle your coffee grinds in your garden and watch it flourish.

3. Grasscycling is leaving grass clippings on the lawn to decompose. Grass clippings are mostly water. When you mow regularly, clippings quickly decompose and release nutrients to fertilize the lawn. Research shows that when grass clippings are left on the lawn, one-third less fertilizer is needed to achieve the same color and grass density found on lawns where the clippings are remove

4. Mulching. Mulch helps soil retain moisture, moderates temperature fluctuations and reduces erosion and soil compaction. Yard wastes such as grass clippings, leaves and chipped or shredded brush and branches can be used as organic mulches. To save on the cost of buying mulch next year, chop up your leaf piles with your lawn mower. Rake up the leaf pieces then store them over the winter in sacks or chicken wire cages. In the spring, spread your chopped up leaves on your garden as home-grown mulch!

Red worms wiggle in a handful of compost.
Red worms wiggle in a clump of compost.

5. Vermicomposting. Red worms live in the upper layer of the forest floor. These worms can turn food waste into nutrient-rich humus for gardens and houseplants. Use a worm composting bin or vermicomposting bin to make a valuable soil amendment out of things like old newspapers, vegetable food scraps, trimmings from house plants, yard waste and other organic materials that would normally be thrown away.

Some more information on vermicomposting:

6. Alternative landscaping. If you have a big yard and don't use it for activities, consider planting an area of prairie grasses, native shrubs or trees. Using native plant species reduces the need for watering, mowing and pesticide use.

Brush piles provide shelter for wildlife.
Brush piles provide shelter for wildlife.

7. Make a brush pile for wildlife. In more natural settings, yard brush and branches can be reused to form a brush pile for wildlife. Brush piles provide shelter, nesting and den sites for chipmunks, woodchucks, weasels, skunks, red fox, numerous bird species, garter snakes, salamanders and more.

Going to school

Going to school - the green way

It’s that time of year again, back to school! Now is a great time for getting your kids off on a green foot.

Close-up of crayons

  • You can begin the academic year in a green way by how you get them to school. Kid power is one of the best modes of transport. Walking, biking, skateboarding, pushing a scooter, skipping, or hopping has been proven to be environmentally friendly ways of getting to school. This may also be a good time to spend some one on one time with your child too. If you can’t easily walk to the school, taking the bus is the next best thing. The bus is a safe and energy saving way to get them to school.
  • Shop for green school supplies. Everything from pencils made out of recycled materials, to backpacks constructed from plastic bottles, even school notebooks of recycled material can be found.
  • When buying school supplies, look for paper and plastic products that contain recycled content. On notebooks, folders and other paper products look for statement like “made from recycled content” and “30% post-consumer paper.” You can also make your own notebooks with recycled cereal boxes and recycled paper.
  • Pack a healthy lunch from organic or locally grown food. Pack some cloth napkins to go with their lunch.
  • Instead of plastic or paper bags, use reusable cloth bags and plastic containers. Invest in a reusable plastic or metal container for carrying drinks, rather than purchasing single-use water bottles or juice boxes.
  • For teaching activities, check out Environmental Education for Kids! (EEK!) [exit DNR]. Parents, you can try some of these activities [exit DNR] at home too.

For more information on green back to school tips, see Recycling and waste reduction for all seasons.

Local food

Buy local food


Purchase local produce and help reduce air emissions! Fresh produce travels over 1,500 miles on average before being eaten [exit DNR]. That's approximately the mileage of a drive from Wisconsin to Arizona! Tractor trailers, which haul much of our produce, get about six miles to a gallon of diesel fuel. Even though they can hold a lot of veggies per load, think about how the emissions add up. For example, each gallon of diesel fuel emits 22 pounds of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.

Driving a tractor trailer 1,500 miles (not including idling time) emits about 5,550 pounds of carbon dioxide, which is almost the same as what an average passenger car emits in seven months! Other air pollutants released in vehicle exhaust include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and particle pollution.

Wisconsin is lucky to have farmers markets around the state where we can buy fresh produce directly from growers. Find out about farmers markets [exit DNR] in your area.

Grocery stores are carrying more local produce because of consumer demand. Ask your grocer where the store's produce comes from and let her know you prefer local products.

At work

At work

Save energy & improve air quality at work.

There are many ways to improve air quality while you're at work. Here are a few tips.

  • Turn off your computer, printers, fax machines and lights at night to save energy. Consider putting all electronics on a power strip so they can all be turned off at once when you leave for the day.
  • Rather than traveling to the meeting, hold meetings by telephone or videoconference, especially during an air quality watch.
  • Bring your lunch to work instead of driving to get it, you will save gas too. If you buy your lunch, walk to the restaurant; it's good for you and the environment.
  • Consider a compressed work week. If you worked four 10-hour days, you would eliminate one round trip every week and traffic may be less congested.
  • Take mass transit, share a ride or carpool. Doing so reduces pollution.
Last revised: Wednesday December 19 2018