Recycling Trees: Everybody Wins

In Hammond, Indiana, downed trees are serving all sorts of new purposes.

| February/March 1999

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    When trees need to be cut down, there's far more to do with the wood than just haul it to the dump or make firewood.

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Before the city of Hammond, Indiana, started a clever new strategy for recycling the 400 trees it removed for residents each year, the downed wood was hauled to city landfills and left to rot. But when Lake County Solid Waste Management District Executive Director Jeff Langbehn visited the local Hoosier Sawmill in early 1997, he got to talking with mill operators about a win-win deal for everyone.

Now Hammond, located 33 miles southeast of Chicago, Illinois, has found a way to use these fallen trees--becoming a working template for cities across the nation that are letting valuable resources go to waste.

The old system cost the city in many ways: loss of landfill space, loss of valuable wood, loss of clean air due to methane gas produced by tree decay, and more than $100,000 a year in hauling and dumping fees.

With the new plan, dubbed "Trees to Furniture," the city takes the trees to Hoosier Sawmill to be milled into usable lumber, rather than hauling them to a landfill. The sawmill keeps 70% of the wood for compensation, and the other 30% is transformed into city picnic tables, park benches, garden sheds, and more.

This delights city officials, who used to spend more than S3.000 on picnic tables alone every year.

"This project has taken on a life of its own," says Langbehn. "Everyone I've talked to is really pumped about it. We're taking natural resources that were being thrown away and allowed to decay and turning them into useful products."

Langbehn cites many benefits. Hammond saves thousands of dollars on the dumping of trees, as well as on the building of park fixtures. Less tree decay means less air-polluting methane gas. And Hoosier Sawmill gets a ready source of material at no cost, which it then sells to a local palate company, thereby helping to preserve local jobs.

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