Sunday conversation with … Chris Heim

Christmas tree recycle program may be largest in U.S.

Yes, you can drag that Fraser fir or blue spruce that brought you joy and memories to the end of the driveway, where it is destined for the landfill. Or you could give your Christmas tree new life by taking it to your local Home Depot store and recycling it to enhance neighborhood parks or provide fish with a cool place to live. On Saturday, the 23rd annual “Bring One for the Chipper” tree recycling will take place across the metro area. Last year, more than 106,000 trees were ground into mulch for playgrounds and other public landscaping projects while 7,200 were used to create fish habitats. The event, sponsored by Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation, along with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and corporate sponsors The Home Depot, WXIA and Davey Tree Expert Co., is believed to be the largest of its kind in the country, having recycled more than six million trees to date. The AJC talked with Chris Heim, Davey’s district manager, about how tree recycling has become a community event that benefits everyone.

Q: Was tree cycling an idea that took off right away?

A: The first few years it was fairly small and took a while to catch hold. It has taken off statewide now.

Q: What do you do with the trees collected?

A: We create mulch to give back to the community, to parks and schools, to help with erosion control and beautification. The Army Corps of Engineers takes some of them to lakes and sinks them for fish habitat.

Q: What part does your company play?

A: The Home Depot provides space in their parking lots where people can drop off their Christmas trees. We go in and chip up the trees and deliver the mulch.

Q: Why do you think people haul their trees in when they could just dump them at the curb?

A: We live in a continuing green society and this is one way to contribute to that. And people enjoy it.

Q: Won’t a tree just decompose in the landfill anyway?

A: Overtime. It takes up valuable space. There are a lot of good uses for Christmas tree mulch. Why put it in a landfill?

Q: How much mulch do you make?

A: We estimate that Davey creates from The Home Depot sites 5,000 cubic yards every year.

Q: For the mathematically challenged, is that a lot?

A: That is a lot. A dump truck load is somewhere between 10 and 15 cubic yards. You are talking 500 loads.

Q: So people volunteer for this?

A: Through Keep Georgia Beautiful, different communities have local affiliations that have people involved. The volunteers are the glue that sets up the sites and help unload the trees. A lot of time, they give out seedlings or vegetable packets. At a site in Vinings, we have one guy who has volunteered to unload trees for 20 years.

Q: What if you keep your tree up beyond Jan. 4?

A: You can contact Keep Georgia Beautiful. There may be other sites to take it to.

Q: What about buying a tree with roots that can be replanted?

A: Most of the popular varieties used for Christmas trees aren’t native to Atlanta and they are going to struggle.

Q: As an arborist, do you have a problem with live Christmas trees?

A: Christmas trees are an industry and a valuable part of the economy. And they are renewable.

Q: Do you have a live Christmas tree?

A: I do. This year it is a Douglas fir.

Q: So should people feel good about recycling their tree?

A: They are being environmentally responsible, just as they are when they recycle their plastics, paper and cardboard.

The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at ann.hardie@ymail.com.

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