Councils are having to send leaves collected from streets to landfill because contamination with rubbish means they are classified as litter.
It is estimated five million tonnes of leaves are cleared away by councils in the UK each year, to stop them from blocking drains and causing accidents.
While leaves from parks can be composted, the rest go to landfill.
It is a costly problem, as councils have to pay £40 in tax for every tonne of waste that ends up in landfill.
It it estimated clearing leaves costs most councils around £100,000 a year.
Anatoly Osukhousky, who leads a clearing team for Camden Council in north London, said it picked up seven or eight tonnes of leaves every day.
Camden councillor for the environment, Chris Knight, says the leaves collected by the parks department are taken to a processing plant where they are composted.
The high-quality compost product is then used to grow food on farms, in homes and in projects in the borough.
But he said: "On the streets, that is one of the areas which we have difficulty with recycling. The contamination which comes off the streets - litter, cigarette ends and dog mess - clearly those leaves cannot go into the recycling process.
"They will be taken off and used either to produce energy from waste, or they will be landfill."
The council is looking at trying to use leaves from cleaner streets in the borough for composting.
Cllr Knight said sustainability was a core issue and that finding solutions to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill was a key priority for the council.
"At present 29% of our waste is recycled and we'd like to get that up to 35%," he said.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: "Councils do not want to throw leaves away to landfill because they have to pay £40 in tax to the government for every tonne of rubbish they put there."
Councils are trying to find new ways of disposing of their leaf litter.
One company in Birmingham, called Leaf Log, is turning the leaves into logs for burning.
Peter Morrison from the company said the leaves were dried out, then packed into log shapes before being sold on.