How Can This Be Good For The Environment?

Something doesn’t make sense about the city’s plea that we recycle our Christmas trees.

In a story last week by my colleague Val Russ, Streets Department Deputy Commissioner Carlton Williams asked that we refrain from putting our used Tannenbaums at the curb on garbage day, since the city will treat them as trash – i.e., toss ‘em in a landfill – “and that's not good for the environment.”

Nor is it good for the city's finances, Val noted, which are already burdened. Those trees would not only take up a lot of landfill space, but will cost the city extra dollars to dispose of the added bulk.

"We pay $63 a ton for trash," Williams told Val.

Instead, the city wants us to take our trees to one of three city collection areas, where they’ll be mulched.

But how many people, realistically, are going to do that?

Speaking for my own household, the chore would require us to:
1. Rent a car from PhillyCarShare or ZipCar (as we have no car of our own);
2. Ferry the dry, shedding, resin-sticky tree (which, by the way, the city doesn’t want us to bag or tie) to the collection spot.
3. Vacuum and wipe out the filthy car when we get home.

This effort to be “good for the environment” would actually consume gas, emit a short-trip carbon belch and consume electricity (needed to vacuum the car we couldn’t protect with a bag or string). 

And if you consider that other civic-minded Philadelphians, at the behest of their government, might perform the same chore, well, it's hard to see the environmental benefit Williams is referring to.

Wouldn’t it just make more sense for the city to pick up our damn trees and take them to the recycling centers? And save on those landfill fees at the same time?

Besides, the city knows that the best way to get people to recycle is to make it simple for them to do so. Otherwise, why would Mayor Nutter be so giddy in all those new promos, in which he tells us that recycling is now easier than ever, since the Streets Department will now collect our recyclables each week, with our regular trash?

The news comes on the heels of a prior, and very smart, change that allows us to combine paper, glass and metal in the same bins – yet another nod to the fact that compliance rises when recycling takes as little extra thought as possible.

So why, then, is the city dropping the ball when it comes to Christmas trees? Given what a pain it will be to get them to the recycling centers, people are gonna leave them at the curb anyway. That might end up costing the city more, out of pocket, than if they just recycled the dried-out things in the first place.

My call to Williams for a comment wasn’t returned last week, so the city’s public affairs people are trying to track down some answers about this. I’ll keep you posted when I hear back.

Meantime, if you’re inclined to haul your tree off for recycling, here’s where to drop it, through Jan. 17th:

* 63rd Street and Passyunk Avenue, in Southwest Philadelphia
* State Road and Ashburner Street, in the Northeast
* Domino Lane near Umbria Street, in Roxborough