What does South Suburban do with all of its plant debris?
Martha Turner, SSPRD Horticulture Maintenance Specialist
With more than 100 parks, tens of thousands of urban trees, and multiple athletic playing fields, we generate an enormous amount of organic debris every year. This debris could potentially result in a large source of greenhouse gas emissions if we sent it to the landfill. But why throw it away? It’s actually a wonderful source of reusable materials!
How we recycle debris
Here are a few ways we reuse different organic materials:
If the woody debris from our Forestry operations is large enough, it’s chipped into mulch for use in our own parks and also made available to District residents for their own yards.
Shrub and Perennial Debris
We pack plant debris from shrub and perennial maintenance into a 30-yard roll-off dumpster to be hauled away and turned into compost – about one dumpster load per month (360 cubic yards in 2016!).
We do not compost on site for several reasons – the equipment needed to compost on a commercial scale is prohibitively expensive and it’s much cheaper for our purposes to buy compost when we need it (not as often as some might guess). The net effect of these activities is that we have not had to purchase mulch for our tree wells and ornamental shrub beds for many years, quite a cost savings.
The Turf crews, on the other hand, do compost all dirt collected from sod jobs, turf repair, construction projects, irrigation repairs, and aeration cores from various projects, and run that material through a grinder and screen, to be used as top-dressing compost for all of the athletic fields. Again, this is a win-win of material reuse, waste diversion, and avoided costs.
Leaves, Deadfalls, and Snags
In a win-win-win of material diversion-reuse-avoidance, leaves, deadfalls and snags are usually just left alone in our natural open spaces to become habitat for wildlife (no landfill, no labor costs, and excellent re-use).
The use of these materials promotes the overall health of our park landscapes, the mulch by conserving moisture in the soils and the compost by improving turf quality. Healthy landscapes require less water, improve local air quality and contribute enormously to community physical and emotional health.
How can you be more sustainable?
Here are a few ways you can be more in your day-to-day life
As noted above, we offer free wood mulch to residents. So if you need some for your yard, skip the store and swing by the Willow Spring Service Center to get it for free (limit one pickup load, please).
Once the Yuletide season has passed, don’t throw out your tree! Each year, we run a free Christmas Tree chipping program in partnership with the City of Littleton. Every January, we set up two locations, one in the parking lot at Cornerstone Park and the other in the driveway at the Willow Spring Service Center, for residents to bring their Christmas Trees to be chipped into mulch. The mulch is used by the District and is available for resident use. In 2017, we chipped more than 2500 trees. Best. Smelling. Mulch. Ever.