11 January 2009


Today our family confronted one of the toughest moments of any new year: dismantling and disposing of our Christmas tree. I am always guilt-ridden and very sad about doing this, and I try to put it off as long as possible. I am filled with loathing of our culture as I walk down the streets of New York City in early January and see trees at the curb, evicted from their seasonal homes and surrounded by garbage bags, and I get very angry when I see trees with abundant tinsel or decorations still on them (or bagged trees), as I know that the Department of Sanitation will take those along with the landfill trash. At least I can say that, in the years since I first lived here, there seem to be fewer curbside trees overall (I will have to dig for statistics), and certainly there are a lot fewer with tinsel or other items that mark them as unacceptable for recycling. The city has, it seems, made strides. According to a press release on the Department of Sanitation's Web site, "clean, non-bagged Christmas trees that are left at the curb between Monday, January 5th and Friday, January 16th will be collected, chipped, and made into compost. The compost will be processed and subsequently spread upon parks, ball fields, and community gardens throughout the city. In January 2008, the Department collected over 160,000 discarded Christmas trees." This actually suggests that the bare trees I see at the edges of sidewalks will meet with an eco-friendly end.

I occasionally can be a "doubting Thomas" type of person, though, and since I am determined that I will see our own tree properly recycled (not hauled away in the wee hours of the morning by a truck going . . . somewhere . . . ), I have committed our family to MULCHFEST.  Which means that we are getting rid of our tree earlier than we'd otherwise like to, but . . . such is our "cost" of having a tree to begin with: at least making sure to treat it (and the earth) in a more friendly, sustainable way.

MULCHFEST is sponsored by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.  This tree recycling effort has its own branding, with a logo (top of post), Web page (click here), and so forth. I do wish they did more publicity in the city, though. They should have posters on bus shelters or something. As it is, it seems as though you have to already be very environmentally conscious and recycling-aware to find out about the event. Also, I wish it were more than just a single weekend. But I am not up to changing the cogs in the machine of the city just yet—that'll be a resolution for a long-term future, I'm afraid.

For now, for today, we've done our part. I made sure to prepare my five-year-old son earlier in the week, as he'd already been talking about keeping the tree all year long, and I know this moment can be difficult for kids (and, as I said, for the adults as well!). When the protests started—"This weekend? But, Mom . . ."—and the teary eyes kicked in, I launched into my pitch: You know how much you love the springtime flowers in Central Park? (slow nodding assent) Wouldn't it be great to know that our tree helped make them grow? And you wouldn't want our Christmas tree to be collected like trash, would you? (small voice confirming the negative) Well . . . if we take our tree this weekend, we can be sure that it will be chipped and used by the people who work for the city's parks, and you'll be helping other plants to grow, and the animals in the park will be happy. I am also sure to throw in tidbits about how cool the chipping machine is; machines are a big draw for my son at the moment.

When the time came today, I have to say that my son was completely enthusiastic about the project. He really is easily convinced to do things that make the world more beautiful. This is, after all, the kid who, when he was a toddler, would stop to pick up trash in the subway station and toss it into the garbage cans. He'd then ask me if the earth was saying "thank you," which I confirmed. And since he's been old enough to take lunch to school, he's been proud of his zero-waste packaging—his first lunch box was a great bag made of recycled foil juice packs. (Note: The bags are called "Bazura" bags, and are made in the Philippines by a women's cooperative that purchases the used containers through a network of local school children, then sterilizes them and stitches them into great designs. The bags are strong—the material is sturdy and not biodegradable, making the recycling more crucial—and the co-op helps to empower women to be strong themselves and to help clean up their environment. You can find the bags at the Web site of ReusableBags.com. Another great product on the site: Wrap-N-Mat, a reusable wrapper for sandwiches.)

But back to MULCHFEST. I was going to document our trip to the nearest location for the event, which was eight short blocks and one and a half long ones away from our apartment (kind of a long way to haul a tree on foot, but we whistled our way there); however, the camera was not cooperating. What you would have seen pictures of: a significant pile of naked evergreens waiting for mulching; close to a dozen workers from the Parks Department, smiling through today's frigid weather; trees being loaded at last into the chipping machine. Overhearing some of the workers at the site, we asked for confirmation and were told that during this weekend, at this single location (according to one source, MULCHFEST had 80 drop-off spots in the city), 1,381 trees had already come through. We were able to identify our tree as it was fed into the machine, and my son gave me a "high five," shouting over the significant noise that "we should be proud of ourselves!" Indeed. I was most proud of him and his attitude.

The walk home was bitter cold and icy, but a lot lighter. We returned to an apartment full of stray pine needles and a big empty space where our tree used to be. But I think it's safe to say our hearts felt bigger and our consciences clear. MULCHFEST is yet another family tradition to look forward to each year—a way to close out the holidays and to do a bit of our own recycling of the spirit of Christmas, for the dormant memory of our tree (and its reuse) will no doubt nourish us into the spring season of rebirth, when the fruits of our winter plans, hopes, and dreams will start to blossom.

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Mediterranean kiwi said...

having been born in a country wher this sort of thing doe snot happen, and living in a town where this sort of practice does not exist (greeks just love their shiny tinselly plastic trees), i think my heart would feel a piercing sting to see so much waste on the road...
i know this sounds harsh, but what a lot of wood being thrown away...

A. C. Parker said...

Yes, I agree. All the more reason why it's important for the trees to NOT be thrown away, but rather turned into mulch and returned to the earth for other trees, plants, and flowers to grow!

Mediterranean kiwi said...

i guess you're really busy allison, but you're still on my mind - thanks for all the good advice in your email!

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