Melba Lara: If you have a beautiful live Christmas tree in your home this holiday season, you might be thinking about what to do with that big tree that's now drying out in the living room. Before you toss it in the alley, let's hear about another option. The city of Chicago will be running its annual tree recycling program at 26 sites. To hear more about it, I spoke with Chris Sauve, Deputy Commissioner for Recycling and Malcolm Whiteside, Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau of Forestry. I started by asking Malcolm how the program got started.
Malcolm Whiteside: We started in 1990. The Deputy Commissioner at the time, was very interested in trying to figure out how to recycle Christmas trees. And we started a program where we had on site locations, we brought our forestry crews to those locations to recycle trees. And people were able to come out and throw their trees in the machine and watch it get grinded up.
Melba Lara: And Malcolm, how many trees do you guys process every year?
Malcolm Whiteside: So for the very beginning, we started with 700. Last year, we recycled over 19,422. It's picked up throughout the years, especially in the 2000s. I think we have a more recycle-minded population of citizens in Chicago to understand the importance of recycling.
Melba Lara: And Chris, I want to bring you in here. Let's talk more about the environmental impact. What happens when a tree goes to a landfill?
Chris Sauve: Well, that would be the one scenario we don't want to have happen, right? Is these trees ending up in our collection stream for refuse. We want to meet people where they are, at one of these park locations and keep that tree from going to a landfill all together. I think last year Malcolm mentioned 19,000 trees, that corresponds to about 660,000 pounds of material. So if we're keeping 660,000 pounds of material off of our refuse collection and out of landfill, that's just an added benefit for our recycling overall.
Melba Lara: And Chris, does the city of Chicago have plans for expanding the program or trying to reach more people?
Chris Sauve: Well, we definitely look to the parks and the park district is our partner in this effort. Last year, we added Mahalia Jackson Park on the South Side. 2023 we're definitely looking at other opportunities to collect more organic material. This past fall, we did an expanded pumpkin smash collection to try to collect pumpkins coming from the Halloween holiday. So we're definitely doing what we can to expand these programs and meet people where they are to keep this material from going to landfill.
Melba Lara: And Malcolm if someone listening wants to participate, what do they need to do to prep the tree before turning it into mulch?
Malcolm Whiteside: Yeah, that's a very important question because we want to make sure the tree is, as you say, naked, just like you purchased it. We want it to bear no ornaments, no lights, no - anything that's going to be detrimental to us during the recycling aspect of it. Just make sure all the lights and everything else is off. And just drop it off at the corrals.
Melba Lara: That's Deputy Commissioners, Malcolm Whiteside and Chris Suave, speaking about the city of Chicago's tree recycling program. It starts this Saturday and runs for two weeks. You can see a list of locations at Chicagorecycles.org. This is WBEZ.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.