City asks lawn care companies for help clearing clippings

Sometimes, doing something once isn’t a problem, but when that act is repeated hundreds or thousands of times, the damage adds up. Such has been the case in Van Buren, Ark., where grass clippings and other yard debris left on the street by the curbside have been clogging the city’s drainage system.

Grass clippings and other yard waste blown or left on city streets have been clogging drains and causing other problems in Van Buren, Ark.
Photos courtesy of Larry Ricketts/City of Van Buren.

“We bought a street sweeper a few years back, and it was a considerable purchase,” explains Larry Ricketts, street department manager, of the city’s efforts to keep the sides of the streets clean. “In doing so, the general public would see the street sweeper coming down the street with gutter brooms cleaning out the curbs and gutters, people thought, ‘Hey, there’s a place where I can put my grass clippings and get rid of them,’ but yard waste was not what this machine was made for or designed for.” Not to mention the possibility of houses becoming flooded in big rain storms if the drainage system backs up.

The city of Van Buren changed its ordinances to prohibit leaving clippings and other yard waste on the streets, but further education was needed to inform people of the issue. That’s when Ricketts came up with the idea for a Keep Van Buren Beautiful campaign, modeled after a statewide Keep Arkansas Beautiful program. “I noticed on the side of a lot of highways, there are businesses that sponsor a certain section and pick up litter, so I thought we could start a sponsorship program where lawn care businesses can be sponsors,” he explains. “I wanted to start with them first, and get them on board to help keep our curbs and gutters clean.”

The goal isn’t to have lawn care companies going around to clean up lawn debris left by others, but simply to pledge to keep the clippings and other yard waste their own crews generate out of the city’s drainage system. “I noticed that some of the lawn care companies were putting yard waste out there, and we have a little more control over the lawn care companies [than homeowners mowing their own yards], because of the business licenses required to do business in the city,” says Ricketts. He decided to kick off the Keep Van Buren Beautiful program by working with the 33 companies licensed to do lawn care work in the city.

Specifically, as part of the Keep Van Buren Beautiful Professional Lawn Care Agreement, companies will do the following:

  • Keep a current business license with the city of Van Buren;
  • Keep current liability insurance for their lawn care business;
  • Not discharge or leave any grass, leaves, limbs or any other type of vegetation on the streets, curbs, gutters or sidewalks in the city of Van Buren;
  • Not blow, sweep or place grass, leaves, limbs or any other type of vegetation in the drainage boxes, drain culverts or drainage ditches in the city of Van Buren; and
  • Display a visible Keep Van Buren Beautiful sponsor decal on their vehicle.

The program is voluntary and all the lawn care company has to do to take part is sign the pledge and send it back in. “We will put a decal on their vehicle, showing that they are a sponsor of Keep Van Buren Beautiful,” explains Ricketts. “The decal will have the year on it, and we’ll update it annually. It’s free of charge to them, they just have to sign the pledge.”

Ricketts thinks it will be a good opportunity for lawn care companies to show their customers, and potential customers, that they’re interested in helping the community and doing business the right way. “The general public will see those decals on their vehicles, and know that those companies have been endorsed by the city of Van Buren, so they know they are a reputable business,” he explains. “To protect the public, we have to make sure companies are licensed, so our code enforcement officers driving around won’t have to get out of their vehicles to check when they see a vehicle with the Keep Van Buren Beautiful decal. They know that company has a business license in the city, so it helps them.” It also prevents those lawn care crews from having to stop work to show the code enforcement officers their paperwork or answer questions.

The program is just rolling out, and it’s the end of the lawn care season, so it might not be until next spring that Ricketts can truly judge response to the program by the number of lawn care pros who sign up to take part. “I’ve talked to quite a few lawn care companies, and they think it’s a good idea because it might bring them more business,” he notes.

One who feels that way is Duane Froud, owner of Froud Lawn and Landscape, who quickly signed on to the program. “They approached me and I thought it was a good idea, and a good way to help promote awareness about keeping our city pretty,” he said. “We’re out there every day keeping our business’ and homeowners’ yards in tip-top shape. If I’m doing that, and I can also help out by keeping clippings and leaves and debris out of the roads when I’m finished with that yard, it just makes sense.”

He also hopes the new program will help him stand out from others not taking part in the campaign. “I’m hoping that it is something that will, when I’m talking to new potential customers, they can see my credentials and see what kind of a program I’m involved in. Maybe that will help them choose me over a company that doesn’t care about helping to make the city beautiful,” says Froud.

Lawn care companies who sign a pledge to keep lawn debris out of and away from streets, and agree to maintain current license and insurances, will receive a Keep Van Buren Beautiful decal to display on their vehicles.

Those in the industry have a vested interest in getting behind this effort. Froud says, “I’ve got a lot of buddies in this industry that I’ve been visiting with, and a lot of them are interested. Those of us who work in this industry usually want to provide a good service and leave a pretty yard when we’re all done, and leaving the city pretty is part of it.”

Froud thinks the major problem with clippings getting into the streets comes from homeowners mowing their own yards. “I’m sure there are some guys in this industry who do it, but not a lot. I do see homeowners doing that frequently. It’s going to be a challenge to educate them.”

Perhaps starting with the lawn care professionals will help set the bar high for others, and keep the debris out of the streets. “I’ve been fighting this battle for quite a few years now,” says Ricketts of yard waste making its way onto city streets. He hopes that the Keep Van Buren Beautiful program will be a “win-win” way to address the problem.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 13 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.