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Scouting for Christmas trees

Posted on January 8, 2014 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Lethbridge Herald file photo

A member of the 14th McKillop Scouts helps with the Christmas tree collection program in 2011. Members of Scouts Canada – Chinook Council have been involved in the annual campaign for most of the previous 20 years and will be taking on the task again this year.

Another Christmas has come and gone. Gifts have been opened, turkey and treats have been consumed in quantity, and all that remains is the post-Christmas cleanup. That includes undecorating the Christmas tree and, in cases where a real tree was used, disposing of it.

But that’s not always an easy matter. Christmas trees are usually larger than one can stuff into the trunk of a car.

Fear not, though. The Scouts are coming to rescue.

As they have done for most of the past two decades, Scouts Canada volunteers will conduct the annual Christmas tree collection campaign taking place Saturday, Jan. 11. All residents have to do is remove all decorations and tinsel from their live tree and place it in the location where they normally have their garbage picked up (front or alley). Trees should be placed by 7 a.m. that day.

The program is a win-win-win scenario, providing a convenient way for residents to get rid of their live Christmas trees and diverting a large volume of recyclable waste from the city’s landfill while also serving as an important fundraiser for community groups such as the Scouts, who receive a fee from the city for carrying out the task.

Any community group can apply to take on the Christmas tree collection but it has generally been Scout troops that have undertaken the program.

“It gives us a chance to serve in the community and it helps some of the groups with some funding,” says Bob Kolibar, area commissioner for Scouts Canada and co-ordinator for the Christmas tree recycling program.

Four local scouting groups, including the 45th Lethbridge group with which Kolibar is involved, will team up to tackle the tree program this year.

“We usually like to get four groups,” says Kolibar, noting that each group takes two or three zones, with the city featuring 10 zones in total.

Each group must arrange for enough volunteers to handle the task, along with a sufficient number of vehicles and trailers to haul the trees. After undertaking the program for so many years, veteran Scouts Canada leaders have a good handle on what the job requires.

“It’s getting to more of science now,” says Kolibar.

Heather Gowland, the city’s waste and recycling co-ordinator, says the Christmas tree collection program has been handled by the Scouts for most of the past 20 years and has proven to be very successful.

“It’s beneficial for residents and it keeps waste out of the landfill,” says Gowland, noting that more than 80,000 trees have been diverted from the landfill thanks to the program. “That’s pretty significant,” she adds. “That’s a lot of material.”

In addition, because it is organic material, its decomposition creates methane gas, one of the “greenhouse” gases, so keeping it out of the landfill “benefits all of us in the end,” says Gowland.

Not only are the trees kept from the landfill, but they are recycled. City crews “chip” the trees to produce environmentally friendly mulch that is used in city parks. “You can find your old Christmas tree underneath another tree,” Gowland says.

Some of the wood-chip mulch is made available for residents to use free of charge. It will eventually be available at Peenquim Park, located off of Stafford Drive North, on a first come, first served basis until all the mulch is gone.

The tree recycling program is popular with residents because it makes it easy to dispose of their Christmas trees.

“They’re such cumbersome things to get rid of,” says Gowland. “You can’t fit it in your car.”

About 2,000 trees were collected last year and Gowland expects another large number of trees this year.

“I spoke with a man selling Christmas trees in town and he says they’re seeing an upward trend of people buying real Christmas trees again.”

When it comes to disposing of other Christmas waste, the city reminds residents to keep styrofoam and wrapping paper separate from their recycling materials. Gowland says that’s because wrapping paper often contains materials other than paper. “That’s why you get that waxy, plasticky feel.”

There are environmentally friendly alternatives to wrapping paper for people who want to take a “green” approach to Christmas.

“We encourage people to be creative,” says Gowland. “You can get a gift wrapped in a new T-shirt or newspaper.”

As for the tree collection, Scouts Canada members encourage people to be sure to have their Christmas trees placed outside for pickup by 7 a.m. on Jan. 11. “That’s makes our job a little easier,” says Kolibar.

Kolibar adds the Scouts try to ensure trees are picked up within a day — “weather permitting” — but if trees are missed, residents can call the local Scouts Canada office at 403-327-4647 to make arrangements to have the trees picked up.

As of Jan. 3, The Weather Network’s 14-day forecast looked promising for tree pickup day, with a few flurries predicted along with a daytime high of 3. Through the years, the Christmas tree collection day has seen a range of weather conditions.

“We’ve had really good weather and some absolutely terrible weather,” says Kolibar.

The tree collection program involves all age groups — Beavers, Cubs, Ventures and Scouts — though the heavy work is obviously left to the older members. “There are different roles,” Kolibar says.

In spite of the sometimes challenging weather, Kolibar sees the program as a positive one for local Scouts Canada participants.

“It’s a good program for the kids,” says Kolibar, noting it meshes well with Scouts Canada’s focus on recycling and environmental issues, along with the emphasis on service. “The biggest part of service is that they go out and participate, be able to get together and help do some good.”

By the end of Jan. 11, local Scouts will have done their good deed for the day.

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