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Carbondale tree recycling program helps provide local fish habitats

From the The state of recycling in Southern Illinois: Which plastic to throw in your bin, and how the global economy matters series
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CARBONDALE — Carbondale continues its tradition of recycling local Christmas trees to create a positive ecological impact.

Carbondale’s Christmas Tree Recycling Program allows any resident to dispose of a live tree in a beneficial way that will not only give back to the environment but the local community as well, according to Carbondale’s City Arborist Mark McDaniel.

“It’s great because, especially for Carbondale residents, it minimizes the waste and it helps foster a healthy community and environment,” McDaniel said. “Our program encourages our residents to become responsible stewards of our natural resources.”

The Carbondale Forestry Division will be accepting used Christmas trees through Jan. 28.

Residents can either leave trees curbside during their normal refuse and recycling collection day or drop off any day at the Public Works Complex on North Michaels Street, Parrish Park parking lot on West Sunset Drive or Attucks Park parking lot on North Wall Street.

Even remote learning is not an option for some students at a growing number of suburban schools, where the spike in COVID-19 cases this week has sidelined teachers and staff, suspending classroom instruction amid a critical statewide shortfall of school employees.

Carbondale’s program is just one of many across the state as individuals become more environmentally conscious about the state of our planet, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Ken Johnson said.

“More and more you’re seeing them. They’re being advertised and marketed a little bit more,” Johnson said. “That kind of goes on when people become more aware of (environmental issues) ... I think people are becoming more aware and more interested in that type of thing.”

Carbondale’s Christmas Tree Recycling Program started around the time of many others across the state when Public Act 85-1430 was passed in the early 1990s.

“Sometime in the early '90s, the state of Illinois basically passed a law that you can’t put yard waste and other plant materials like that in landfills,” Johnson said. “Christmas trees fell into that. They decompose and it would produce a lot of methane which is a greenhouse gas.”

The act banned all landscape waste from being disposed of in landfills effective July 1, 1990.

The methane caused by landscape waste is just one of the many reasons we are in the environmental state that we are currently in, Johnson added.

The act coupled with Carbondale being one of 3,676 recognized Tree City USA cities sparked the beginning of the Christmas tree recycling program years ago, McDaniel said.

The roughly 200 Carbondale Christmas trees recycled yearly can serve a variety of different purposes.

In years past, Carbondale has turned the trees they received into free-to-use woodchips for the public, McDaniel said.

However, this year they will help aid the local waterway inhabitants with the help of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“This year we will primarily donate a majority to IDNR which will go to making fish habitats,” McDaniel said. “I think it’s a win-win because IDNR can come by and help pick up the trees and then disperse them out into the local lakes.”

Creating local fish habitats is only one of the many ways trees can be reused.

If your local ordinances allow for brush piles, they also make great habitats for rabbits, butterflies and other insects.

“Christmas trees can also be used to create habitat for other wildlife in the form of brush piles,” Johnson said in a recent article. “Place brush piles near field borders and in woodland areas along with other brush to provide cover for wildlife.”

They also make excellent giant birdfeeders for local birds, according to Johnson.

“It gives them somewhere to shelter during the winter while those trees still have needles,” Johnson said. “You can decorate them with like popcorn and cranberry garland, pine cones with peanut butter and birdseed. It’s providing food resources.”

Despite the growing artificial tree trend, Carbondale’s program shows that having a real tree can do fantastic things for the local environment.

“As a tree guy people think ‘Oh we’re just killing the trees,’ but there is good that comes from having a tree from a Christmas tree farm,” McDaniel said. “They go right back into reusable resources for everyone.”

If you plan to participate in the local effort remember to remove all pine rope, wreaths, garland and ornaments from the tree.

Flocked trees cannot be used in this program.


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Turn back time to local history during the Civil War over 180 years ago. Some could enjoy the Christmas season, but that holiday Capt. Edmund Newsome found himself in an asylum and Pvt. Edwin Loosely contemplated the Battle of Nashville. 

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