How to say goodbye to your Christmas Tree: NYC’s Mulchfest

December 24, 2019

Photo: NYC Parks / D. Avila

Not quite sure how to get rid of that Christmas Tree? From December 26 to January 11, NYC will be hosting its annual Mulchfest so that you can recycle your tree at a local park. With 67 total drop-off sites throughout the five boroughs—32 of which are chipping sites—it’s easier than ever to get your tree turned into mulch that will be used to help nourish trees and plants across the city.

The Evolution of Mulchfest

Long ago, most trees ended up on the curb and often wrapped in plastic, which is how they are generally taken out of buildings to avoid needle droppage. These bagged trees eventually made their way to landfill sites. In the early 1990s, the Department of Sanitation started to run special pickups to bring the city’s thousands of discarded pines to one of four designated chipping sites where the trees were turned into mulch. If you’ve ever gardened, you’ll know that mulch—generally comprised of decaying leaves, bark, or compost—is spread around plants to enrich and insulate the soil.

In the early years, the city’s tree recycling program wasn’t particularly popular. As city residents became increasingly environmentally conscious, however, the program started to take off. By 2007, the city’s tree mulching locations had expanded from a mere four to over 60. But in true New York style, it wasn’t enough to simply have a day or two when one could bring their tree to a mulching site. Instead, the City decided to turn their annual mulching ritual into a festival known as Mulchfest.

In recent years, between 25,000 and 30,000 pines were turned into mulch during NYC Mulchfest. This year, the city hopes to recycle even more trees and create a lot more mulch.

How to Participate in Mulchfest?

All you’ll need to do to participate is get your tree to a Mulchfest site. To entice you to drag your tree to a drop-off or mulching site, there are close to 70 sites spread across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. To find your nearest location, visit the NYC Mulchfest site for an interactive map.

There are two types of sites: drop-off points and chipping sites. Drop-off points are simply locations where you can leave your tree for pickup. Chipping sites are sites where the city will be actively mulching trees. If you drop off your tree at a chipping site, you could walk away with your very own “tree-mento.” As explained on the Mulchfest site, if you drop off your tree at certain locations on Chipping Saturdays–Saturday, January 4 and Saturday, January 11–you can receive your very own bag of mulch to be used at home or to make a winter bed for a street tree. If you don’t know much about caring for trees, don’t worry—the city also has a site offering instructions on how to care for all those street trees we all too often take for granted.

For those who aren’t able to make it, the Department of Sanitation will be collecting curbside trees from Monday, January 6 through Friday, January 17 and mulching and recycling these trees. Have an artificial tree to get rid of? Those in good condition can be donated through Donate NYC.

Volunteer to Spread the Mulch

If you want to get more involved, you can even volunteer to help spread the mulch around with other New Yorkers. As a volunteer, you’ll be spreading mulch around the city’s young trees since mulch is a great way to insulate tree roots during the cold winter weather. All you need to volunteer are some warm clothes that you don’t mind getting a little dirty and closed-toed shoes. If you’re an environmentally friendly teen, however, bear in mind that you’ll only be able to spread the mulch if you’re accompanied by a chaperone over the age of 18.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on December 26, 2018, and has been updated with new information.


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