PORTAGE | Breaking habits can be difficult, even when it comes to something as simple as cutting the lawn.
Portage residents are learning — some the hard way — that they can no longer put their grass clippings on the curb and expect them to be hauled away in the trash.
So far this spring, more than 200 residents have received, or will soon receive, a bill from the city for leaving the clippings at the curb, said Randy Reeder, assistant street department superintendent.
When the city adopted new trash and recycling procedures, officials discontinued grass clipping pickups. Residents were given the option of dropping off clippings in biodegradable paper bags in a dumpster at the street department.
Reeder said the new policy was adopted for two reasons.
First, lifting heavy bags of grass clippings was causing injuries to sanitation department personnel. Reeder said the average bag of grass clippings weighs 64 pounds and has the equivalent of six gallons of water.
Second, the city is trying to cut costs. Reeder said it cost $180,000 in 2012 for the city to landfill grass.
"That's just the landfill costs. That's not labor, worker's comp. Imagine what we can do with that money elsewhere, and they are just throwing away water," Reeder said.
Portage's policy isn't unique. Chesterton and Valparaiso have similar policies prohibiting picking up grass, but providing drop-off locations for residents who want to bag their grass.
When spring sprang and the grass began to grow, some Portage residents either forgot about the policy or are having issues following it, Reeder said. Sanitation workers have picked up grass clippings curbside, but residents will be charged $25 per pickup. Reeder said the department will begin tagging bags filled with clippings to warn residents and leave them at the curb.
Reeder said the dumpster at the street department is filled three or four times a week because of the number of residents dropping off their grass clippings. That grass is taken to the city's compost site.
Reeder suggests residents adopt "grasscycling," or leaving grass where it lies when it is cut.
Therese Davis, executive director of the Recycling and Waste Reduction District of Porter County, agreed.
"We even teach it in backyard composting classes. Leaving it on the lawn is the best action," she said, adding it is a matter of homeowners changing habits.
"It is a material that can easily be handled by the homeowner. It doesn't take a lot of time and effort," she said.
Davis said grasscycling may require residents to cut their grass more frequently, but leaving clippings on the lawn benefits the lawn by providing moisture and natural fertilization as the clippings break down into nitrogen. Leaving grass on the lawn does not cause thatch build up, she said.