One of the joys of autumn is watching the leaves on the trees turn from green to yellow to orange to red before they fall gracefully from branches. One of the pains of autumn in Oak Park is having to rake those leaves into the streets for removal. This year, the leaf collection window for Oak Park residents has narrowed by two weeks, saving the village much needed green.

“We went from eight weeks to six weeks this year to save on some additional funds,” Public Works Director John Wielebnicki told Wednesday Journal. 

The reduction has provided the village of Oak Park with $28,198 in savings, according to the “2020 Accomplishments” section for the public works department in the recommended 2021 village budget.

According to Wielebnicki, the village had originally planned to pay roughly $218,000 for eight weeks of leaf collection this year. Oak Park paid around $212,000 for eight weeks of pick up last year. Illinois Waste Management, which handles leaf collection, has an annual rate adjustment of 2.5 percent.

“Next year, we’re going to still stay at six weeks of pickup,” Wielebnicki said. “But we got to pay 2.5 percent more which is $194,000.”

Leaf collection in Oak Park began Nov. 2 this year. Each neighborhood will have leaves picked up once a week over the six-week period. Wielebnicki anticipates six pick-ups will be enough to keep the leaves at bay.

“You can never predict the timing of when leaves will fall,” said Wielebnicki. 

In the first couple weeks of pick up, crews collect fewer leaves; the amount of leaves collected per trip increases as weeks progress, according to Wielebnicki. Crews began picking up leaves later this year due to the reduction.

“When we started, the piles were a little bigger,” said Wielebnicki. “We’re pretty much caught up already.”

The challenge of deciding when to begin collecting and when to stop each year is an inexact science. Continuing to pick up leaves into late December, the higher the risk of snow.

“When leaves go down and we have to start snow plowing, it just becomes very messy,” said Wielebnicki.

Ending pick-ups in the second week of December, Wielebnicki called “a little risky.”

“But that’s the best we can do as far as pushing the leaves,” he said.

If the village has more leaves than pick-ups this year, Wielebnicki said the best thing to do is to mulch the leaves by leaving them on the grass and then mowing over them.

“They’re good for the lawn,” said Wielebnicki. 

Wielebnicki believes the decision to reduce the leaf collection program was made in part to encourage people to mulch the leaves into their yards. 

To ensure your leaves get picked up during the six weeks, do not put yard trimmings in the piles of leaves, which complicates the collection process and sometimes prevents leaves from getting picked up, according to Wielebnicki. 

“Don’t be trimming your bushes and trimming your trees and then putting all those branches in the leaf piles,” said Wielebnicki. “Those need to be disposed of through regular yard waste.”

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