At the end of every holiday season, when City of Milwaukee residents throw their Christmas tree out at their regular collection site, they might be surprised to learn that “O Tannenbaum” goes directly into a landfill. Even though the City of Milwaukee provides ‘recycling’ at the Self-Help Centers where residents can bring their trees to be processed into wood chips, most of us will still kick our trees to the curb come January.
It the interest of “greening ” the holidays, on January 9, 2016 the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association (WHNA) will be hosting its first Christmas tree recycling event called Mulchfest at Washington Park. Residents from all over Milwaukee can bring their trees to the 40th Street Parking Lot Park from 1:00 p.m.– 4:00 p.m. to be recycled into wood chips to be used as mulch at Washington Park, the Urban Ecology Center (UEC) and throughout the Milwaukee County Parks System.
While the idea and practice of neighborhood-based Christmas tree recycling is nothing new across the country, the idea is just taking root here in Milwaukee and now in Washington Park. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, last year 26.3 million trees are sold in the U.S. While they also report over 4000 recycling programs across the country, it is unknown just how much of that organic material goes into landfills. Enderis Park Neighborhood Association started mulching trees in their neighborhood several of years ago and as word spread, more groups like WHNA are seeing this as an opportunity to bring community together around recycling and asset conservation.
Mulchfest at Washington Park is a first-time collaboration among the WHNA Green Committee, Milwaukee County Parks, the Urban Ecology Center, City of Milwaukee, and several other community partners. “We are showcasing what others have already have done in their neighborhoods and are just happy that County Parks allowed us to use the venue, the City is helping out with providing the chipping equipment and their staff could work alongside our volunteers so we could make the event available to everyone in the community,” says WHNA Interim Co-President John Augustyniak.
Families who come to recycle their natural tree together at Mulchfest can get some free treats and start a year-long lesson about the lifecycle of their Christmas tree at the Park. Trees should be free of string lights, decorations, metal hooks and non-organics like paint, ‘flocking’ or plastics such as tinsel. Once the Christmas tree is chopped up by the City of Milwaukee Forestry Crew, the resulting chips can be used as mulch for ground cover around trees, shrubs, or perennials. For recreational applications, wood chips can be laid on trails, walkways, or play areas.
Everyone who donates a tree is welcome to tour the UEC and learn about how mulch supports land stewardship efforts in the orchard, the woodland or at the new prairie in the northwestern corner of the park. Better yet, they can come back and volunteer as an individual or in a group to help preserve park assets with Washington Park volunteer projects (414) 342-0215 or support land stewardship at UEC Washington Park (414) 344-5460 or both.
“Washington Park is like a big green gift that just keeps giving and sometimes we need to give back” says WHNA Green Committee organizer Jeanne Henry. “When we started talking about the idea of recycling Christmas trees the discussion just sort of ended there. We didn’t actually figure out what was going to happen to the chips that came from recycling the trees. Just like with trash right? But we have these partners over here in Washington Park who said ‘We reuse chips – a lot of them.’ A quick gut check and here we are touting the water conservation properties of mulch in the Park and the insulating effects of wood chips for UEC’s orchard in the winter. Almost by definition, partners help you do more, be more.”