By Erin Fuchs
Chattanooga Times Dalton Bureau
DALTON, Ga. -- Still hanging on to that old Christmas tree?
Whitfield County will recycle those pines and firs for free -- even if you hold off until spring, according to recycling educator Bridget Sanford.
"This gives residents the opportunity to do the environmentally conscious thing with their trees," said Ms. Sanford, who works with the Dalton-Whitfield Regional Solid Waste Management Authority.
On Saturday, Keep Dalton/Whitfield Beautiful hosted its Bring One for the Chipper event.
Residents brought their Christmas trees -- stripped of lights, ornaments and tinsel. The evergreens were then fed into a giant chipper, which ground the trees into soil-enriching mulch. That mulch, in turn, is free to residents who want to use it.
But Saturday wasn't the only day for treecycling. Georgia banned yard waste from public landfills in 1996. To encourage residents not to break the law, Whitfield County has four year-round drop-off points for brush and lawn trimmings.
"If they have a tree that falls in their yard, it can be brought throughout the year," Ms. Sanford said.
Some residents didn't realize they could bring in their trees before the Chipper event.
"We had three dead, brown trees show up, and it was where people had held on to them for the year," Ms. Sanford said.
Free mulch has been in high demand. For information on picking up mulch, call the Waste Management Authority at (706) 277-2545.
More than 6,000 tons of mulch was given to county residents in 2007, Ms. Sanford said.
"This year, we actually ran out of mulch a couple times," she said.
The historic drought, and an outdoor watering ban in much of North Georgia, has underscored the importance of mulching, according to many gardening experts. Mulching helps retain moisture.
But Howard Burnett, a retired forester and Dalton resident, cautions against over-mulching.
"When people think of mulch, they think more is better. Two to four inches of mulch is plenty," Mr. Burnett said. "You want to keep moisture in, but you don't want to keep oxygen out."