(WHTM) — For decades, it has been the great annual fall ritual. As the leaves fell, families would take to the lawn with rakes, carefully pulling, pushing, and shoving leaves into large piles. In recent years, a new weapon has been added to the leaf-moving arsenal — the gasoline or electric leaf blower.

After the wee bairns had some fun jumping into the leaf piles, said piles were either shoved out to the curb to be swept or sucked up by municipal street cleaners, stuffed into plastic bags to be picked up by trash collectors, or burned. Thus has it been for generations.

And yet, as time goes by, more and more people are asking themselves if getting rid of the leaves is a good idea…and more and more people are deciding it is not.

Let’s start with leaf burning. Many municipalities now ban it outright, with good reason. The Environmental Protection Agency published a document entitled “Residential Leaf Burning: An Unhealthy Solution to Leaf Disposal” in 1992, explaining all the harmful effects of the pollutants released by leaf burning. You can read it here.

Municipal pickup of leaves just moves the problem around. If the leaves are burned in an incinerator, the pollutants still are released. If the leaves end up in a landfill — and according to the EPA, yard debris makes up almost 13% of what goes into landfills — the leaves will be unable to properly decompose because they’re effectively sealed off from oxygen. Instead, they will release methane.

So, you may say, what should I do with my leaves? For many people, the answer now is to leave them be. According to the National Wildlife Foundation, decomposing leaves form a natural mulch to fertilize your yard. The leaves also provide shelter, food, and nesting material for a variety of wildlife.

Of course, it’s always possible to have too much of a good thing. If the leaf layer gets too thick, it could block light and kill the grass. In such a case, you’ll want to remove some leaves. You can move some leaves to mulch garden beds or add them to grass clippings and other “green materials” to produce compost. You can also pile up leaves with branches and sticks to make “brush shelters” for wildlife.

And one important caveat — whatever you do with the rest of your lawn, be sure to clean the leaves off your sidewalk. Some municipalities frown on people who don’t keep their sidewalks cleared of leaves. Besides, do you really want to be sued when someone slips on a wet leaf?