Say goodbye to your Christmas Tree: NYC’s Mulchfest


If you’re the sort of person who feels down after the holidays come to an end on New Year’s Eve, don’t despair—the fun isn’t over quite yet. From January 4 to 13, NYC will be celebrating its annual Mulchfest, and this year, the city plans to make it better than ever before. On December 17, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver gathered with a group of city officials in Washington Square Park to officially declare Mulchfest a part of the New York City Holiday tradition. In a nutshell, the City of New York wants New Yorkers to stop “pine-ing” for their discarded trees and mulch them instead.

The city is not only embracing clever wordplay to encourage New Yorkers to bid their trees “fir-well” but also launching a new advertising campaign to raise awareness about their mulching program. As explained in a press release, “The new Mulchfest look celebrates New Yorkers’ post-holiday tradition of dragging their trees to a local park for mulching. An illustrated cast of diverse characters use bikes, strollers, teamwork, and other creative methods to get their trees to the chippers, so that their ever-greens can be turned into mulch that will help to reduce waste, protect and nourish other trees and plants throughout 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 Sanitation Department 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 2018, over 25,000 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).

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 on “Chipping Weekend—January 12-13—We’ll chip your tree and give you your very own bag of mulch to use in your backyard 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.

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 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.