Chicago Turns Christmas Trees into Mulch

While visiting California for the holidays, I noticed some eager folks kicking their tree to the burb December 26th. In the Sacramento neighborhood that my mom and step dad have lived in for the past few years, I’ve always known you can leave your Christmas tree (I absolutely want to be culturally sensitive, but do other holidays put up trees?) out on the curb and the Boy Scouts will dispose of it, but it never occurred to me to wonder just what happened to that tree.

When I returned to Chicago and was out the weekend after New Year’s, I was curious to see car after car driving down my street with their tree. Turns out, I live near one of the 25 locations throughout the city that accepts Christmas trees for recycling. Though this mountainous pile of trees made the immediate area smell pleasantly of pine, I wondered, how did folks know to do this and what was going to be done with those trees?

This is a collaborative effort between the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation and the Chicago Park District, and it turns out this tree recycling program has been around for almost thirty years. This year it ran from January 5th to January 19th.

A much reduced pile of trees awaiting the wood chipper in my neighborhood.

The trees are turned into mulch, which is then offered back to Chicago residents at six locations (my neighborhood happens to be one) where they can pick it up in whatever container they have handy. The Park District also uses the wood chips, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District uses the “materials” as well.

The Park District website emphasizes the environmental benefits of this tree recycling program, but I like the way put it: “the benefits of recycling/mulching trees are twofold: nutrients from the trees are preserved and given back to the soil, while tons of valuable organic material is diverted from landfills.”

The program mulched over 19,000 trees in 2015, over 21,000 trees in 2016, and last year over 18,000 trees ( estimated that to be equivalent to keeping 640,000 pounds from landfills).

It’s still an option to put your tree out for garbage, but folks are choosing to recycle and that’s pretty awesome!

Another option is to have someone from Do The Right Thing! Recycling. They come to your curb or even pick up in-home. They have great reviews, but there is a fee for this service (consider it a donation to a nonprofit also trying to keep trees from entering the landfill?).

Back in California, just what do those Boy Scouts do with the trees they pick up? This, unfortunately, I could not figure out. I did find out that the City of Sacramento allows residents to drop trees off at six locations, but they are not nearly as convenient for local residents as going to your neighborhood park. Additionally, there is no mention of what is done with the trees.

Additional website where I gleaned information for this post:


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