Bulk Curbside Leaf Collection

Naperville’s thriving urban forest provides a lush, diverse canopy of greenery enjoyed by residents and visitors alike during the warm weather months. However, as cooler weather begins, the logistics of disposing of a significant amount of falling leaves in a community comes to the forefront. To aid residents with leaf disposal, the City provides two leaf collection options: a free bagged leaf program from the end of October through mid-December, and the popular bulk curbside leaf collection, which provides each neighborhood in Naperville with three leaf disposal opportunities each autumn.
On average, the City’s Public Works Department annually collects approximately 45,000 cubic yards of leaves during the bulk curbside leaf collection’s six-week program. Learn more about the City’s urban forest here.

How Does Bulk Leaf Collection Work?

1) Temporary employees sift through the leaves placed at the curb to remove material and objects that may be hazardous to employees and equipment, such as brush, logs, birdhouses, or metal objects. 
2) These employees rake the leaves onto the roadway between the curb line and center line so that John Deere tractors can organize and flatten out the leaves for pickup by City equipment.
3) In most cases, a dump truck drives a leaf loader over the leaves, which sucks them into a leaf loader hopper and uses a shoot to deposit the leaves into the bed of the truck hauling the equipment. In some instances, a dump truck will haul a vacuum, which vacuums the leaves directly from the curb into the bed of the truck.
4) When a dump truck is full, it disconnects from the leaf loading equipment and drives to a disposal site. (The leaves are disposed of on local farm fields or picked up and transported by contractor vendors who use the leaves for composting.) A new truck immediately hooks onto the leaf equipment, and the cycle is repeated throughout the day.

Interactive Leaf Collection Map

The City is divided into 19 districts, and each district receives three collections. Public Works’ crews drive approximately 13,000 miles throughout the program just to pick up leaves.
Click here to view the interactive leaf collection map that is updated throughout the program.

How Many Resources Are Used?

35 to 40 Public Works operators and 10 to 12 temporary employees are assigned to the program. In addition, the program uses:
  • 5 Dinkmars (vacuums)
  • 5 Autumnmates (leaf loaders)
  • 1 vacuum unit
  • 22 dump trucks
  • 5 small John Deere tractors
  • 3 front end loaders
  • 1 sweeper
80% of the leaves collected are picked up by the leaf loaders.

Deciding When to Collect the Leaves

In short: consistency and Mother Nature provide the data to make the call on when bulk curbside leaf collection begins. Each year the program is scheduled to begin 6 weeks in advance of Thanksgiving to not only provide consistency for residents so they know what to expect, but also to allow enough time for leaf collection prior to winter weather.
The majority of leaves, approximately 65-70%, are gathered during weeks three to five of the program. (See the dataset that supports this.) However, all cycles see leaves on the ground and subsequent collection activity. In some years, good weather and leaf quality allows Public Works to finish the three cycles of collection in five weeks; in others, collection has had to extend into a seventh week due to poor weather and associated delays.
The trend of the majority of leaves being collected at the end of October and first two weeks of November has remained fairly consistent over the last decade.

How Winter Operations Impacts Leaf Collection

So, if most of the leaves are collected around the end of October and beginning of November, why does the City start collection in mid-October? Why not wait until later? It’s all about planning for winter weather and public safety.
The timing and end date of the bulk leaf collection program is critical as Public Works must have enough time to covert the equipment used in leaf collection over to winter operations prior to the first snowfall.
The equipment that picks up the leaves from the street attaches to one of 22 dump trucks that then collects the leaves and drives them to a disposal site. However, these 22 trucks also serve as the City’s plows during winter weather events. When leaf collection is complete, each truck must be converted to serve for winter operations, which includes:
  • Removing leaf boxes and any leaf equipment attachments
  • Servicing the truck through Public Works’ fleet services
  • Installing salt tanks
  • Installing plows
  • Calibrating equipment
Converting all 22 trucks takes approximately one week. The City has experienced a major winter weather event the first week of December or sooner five out of the last six years . Of the five events, three occurred during the last two weeks of November, and in all five instances, all 22 dump trucks/plows were needed to clear the streets to make them passable and safe for emergency vehicles and motorists.
Based on this historical storm data, and the one week of time needed to prepare equipment for winter operations, the bulk leaf collection option must end prior to December 1 so the City is prepared for winter operations. Starting the program six weeks before Thanksgiving allows enough time for three collection cycles while also factoring in preparation time for winter operations.

Alternative Leaf Disposal Options

The bulk curbside leaf collection program is only one way that Naperville residents may dispose of leaves. This program augments the free bagged leaf collection program that runs from the end of October through mid-December. Any leaves that fall after bulk curbside collection has ended should be bagged and disposed of through the free bagged program. In addition, residents may choose to only bag their leaves versus raking them to the curb for bulk collection.
In addition, residents can consider mulching their leaves, which serves as excellent nutrients and protection for their lawns, flower beds, and trees.