John Lough of
the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, Bureau of Forestry, explains
that the trees are chipped and made into mulch, which is available to
residents. It is also sold as part of a salvage contract.
At this time of year, the Christmas trees that once lit up homes during the holidays are left in alleyways, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel has another plan for your discarded tree.
“Recycling Christmas trees is an easy way for residents to make a big impact on the environment,” the mayor said in a Dec. 27 press release. “Each year, we are able to recycle thousands of Christmas trees to divert more waste away from landfills and reuse the materials in an environmentally-friendly way.”
John Lough of the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, Bureau of Forestry, says about 12,000 trees have been collected since the announcement was made on Jan. 5, but residents have until Friday to drop them off at any of the 23 participating locations.
“There are different groups that are offering to pick up trees and bring them in for residents who can’t get out,” Lough said.
One of those groups is Do the Right Thing, a nonprofit organization that serves the city’s North Side.
“We pick up your tree directly from your living room floor,” the company’s website said.
Last weekend, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) united with Enterprise Commercial Trucks and Mahogany Builders to collect more than 500 trees.
The trees are chipped and made into mulch by forestry crews from the Chicago Park District and Streets and Sans. The mulch, usually used in gardens to conserve moisture and protect against erosion, is made available to residents at no cost. Lough said the mulch is also given to the Park District for various landscape projects, or sold as part of a salvage contract.
“Artificial trees we do not accept, only natural trees,” Lough said. “We ask residents to take off all the wiring and ornaments so they don’t damage the recycling machinery.”
To save herself the trouble of having to undress and discard her Christmas tree every year, Juanita Valtierra, a busy mother of two, says she keeps an artificial tree at home and tucks it away after every Christmas.
“It’s not as much effort because it is already put together,” Valtierra said. “I don’t have to physically go out and find a tree.”
“The other part is to keep it alive, and I don’t have a green thumb,” Valtierra laughed.
“In Barrington, we go a step further. We take Christmas trees and use them as nesting plants for the birds on Baker’s Lake,” said Patsy Mortimer of Citizens for Conservation, a volunteer group that serves the Barrington area.
The 209-acre Baker’s Lake Nature Preserve in Barrington is protected as a breeding area for rare and endangered birds, such as the black-crowned night heron, great egret, double crested cormorant and great blue heron, among others.
Chicago’s Christmas tree recycling program has been around for 24 years, and the city said it has recycled close to 158,000 trees since then. Lough said the dedication of Chicagoans has made the program a successful one.
“We find that residents start dropping off their trees right away, so we get the impression that they’ve done it for several years, and know the process,” Lough said. “It seems like people are taking it to heart and it’s an automatic step if you have a live tree to just bring it in and recycle it.”