Wind Turbines Close to Home

  • A debate is stirring in northern Michigan communities over how close wind turbines should be built to homes. (Photo by Erin Toner)

A big wind energy proposal near Lake Michigan is promising to pump more than a hundred million dollars into the economy over the next couple of decades.

And supporters see wind as a good alternative to burning more fossil fuels such as coal.

But, as Bob Allen reports, questions are being raised about possible noise pollution from such large scale projects:

The North Carolina based giant Duke Energy wants to build more than a hundred 500 foot tall turbines in rural Benzie and Manistee counties. Michigan officials have identified parts of these two counties as having the 2nd highest wind potential in the state.

Alan O’Shea has been in the renewable energy business for the past thirty years. He’s promoting the project at an open house in a high school gym as a consultant for Duke.

“We don’t have to wait for Michigan to heal. This project can heal northern Michigan. I mean there are people, workers that are here looking for jobs.”

But there also are people in the area opposed to this project.

And on the same day that O’Shea talks up Duke’s plan, opponents draw a few hundred people to a film in a nearby town.

The documentary “Windfall” features residents in a small upstate New York community whose good feelings about wind power have turned sour.

A related Environment Report interview

A related Environment Report story


“This one across the road, 1,050 feet from where we live, and it sounds like the noise is in the walls.”

A key issue in the debate is how far from neighboring homes wind towers will be built.

A typical industry standard is roughly a thousand feet.

But some researchers in Europe and the U.S. suggest maybe a mile or more is needed to buffer against the noise.

Duke Energy officials say that much distance isn’t necessary.

Acoustic consultant Peter Guldberg says it would be difficult to find a square mile in Michigan where there’s not at least one house.

“Suggestions that wind turbines need to be set back a mile-and-a-quarter or a mile-and-a-half from any sort of occupied areas are basically a back door ban on wind energy.”

Guldberg says Duke’s project will produce what he calls a quiet 45 decibels of sound at the nearest home. He points out that normal human conversation is around 65 decibels.

But audiologist Jerry Punch says it’s not a fair comparison.

He says the way sound is measured cuts off much of the low frequency noise. So it doesn’t capture all of the sound that turbines emit.

“And here’s the other thing. Would you want somebody talking in conversational speech all night while you’re trying to sleep?”

Punch is a professor at Michigan State University.

He’s reviewed studies of wind noise world- wide and he says some effects on human health such as dizziness, headaches and irritability are not yet widely accepted.

But what is well established is that once sound gets above 40 decibels, especially at night, sleep disturbance occurs.

And, he says, one out of every four or five people, depending on conditions, report being annoyed.

“Those are potential people who could complain and file lawsuits. And so it becomes pretty important for the wind industry to look at annoyance as real. Even though it may not be directly affecting health I think it indirectly affects health when it interferes with sleep.”

Punch says turbines may have to be at least a mile away from a home to protect those who are most sensitive to the sound.

That kind of distance likely would mean Duke couldn’t put up enough windmills for the project to work economically.

That possibility frustrates Alan O’Shea.

The energy consultant helped stop a new coal plant from being built in the city of Manistee several years ago.

But since then he’s also seen local communities reject alternatives such as wood biomass and offshore wind to generate electricity.

“We have to be open and frank and say if not coal, if not wood chips and not wind, what the hell are we going to do?”

For the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Asian Carp Get Caught in the Courts

  • The Bighead Asian Carp found in Lake Calumet. It was the first physical specimen found beyond the U.S. Army Corp of Engineer's electric barrier. (Photo courtesy of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee)

Everybody loves to hate the Asian carp… but not everyone agrees what to do about it. Some of the monster fish can grow up to 100 pounds… and many scientists say if the fish get established in the Great Lakes, it would be a disaster for the $7 billion fishing industry.

Last year, scientists found one of these giant carp beyond an electric barrier that was supposed to keep them out of Lake Michigan. That made a lot of people nervous.

Attorneys general from Michigan and four other states filed a lawsuit. They wanted to close some of the locks in a shipping canal between Chicago and Lake Michigan to try to keep carp out of the Lake. That request was denied and it has been tied up in the courts ever since.


The people who use the Chicago shipping canal are very much against closing the locks.

Lynn Muench is with the American Waterways Operators. It’s a trade group for the barge and tugboat industry.

“It would impact our industry by over 20 companies being impacted and potentially putting some of them out of business.”

Muench says she’s hoping the Great Lakes states will drop their lawsuit.

On the other side are environmentalists who say something needs to be done soon.

Joel Brammeier is president and CEO of the advocacy group Alliance for the Great Lakes. What’s the latest science on how close the carp are to Lake Michigan?

(interview is being transcribed – please check back)

JB: You know, unfortunately, live carp have already been found in the waters of the Great Lakes. There was an individual live carp found over the summer on the southeast side of Chicago on a river that drains into Lake Michigan. That’s the bad news. We know that these fish are actually in the Chicago waterway. The less bad news is the reproducing populations of these fish are still miles below where the electrical barriers are located, outside the city of Chicago. So the reproducing front of these fish is perhaps 70-100 miles from Lake Michigan. Don’t draw too much comfort from that, because these fish move fast, they’re unpredictable, and they can advance tens of miles in a year.

RW: So what do you think about this solution that the states are pushing – closing the locks – will that work?

JB: Well, I think just like all the other tools we’ve got, nets and electric shocks and poisons, locks will be used as a management tool to buy some time to stop these fish from invading Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes. They’re not a silver bullet, they’re not an overnight solution, and we’ve got to avoid thinking of them that way. We’re not going to keep those locks closed permanently, they’re not designed to do that and frankly they probably wouldn’t solve the problem on their own. We really need to stay focused on a permanent solution, and that’s breaking the connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River once and for all. That idea that sounded radical two years ago has quickly elevated to the realm of reality now that carp have been found actually in the waters of Lake Michigan.

RW: When you talk about cutting the Mississippi River off from Lake Michigan, what do you mean by that?

JB: It means that we make a break, and at that break water no longer flows between those two systems. We’re confident that the kind of economy and quality of life that this waterway supports can actually grow even after a separation occurs.

RW: Joel Brammeier is the president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Thank you so much for your time!

JB: No problem, Rebecca. Take care.

RW: At the moment, the Army Corps of Engineers is in the middle of a study to try to figure out how to keep carp out of Lake Michigan. But the Corps says that study won’t be done until the year 2015. That’s not fast enough for some Great Lakes cities and states. They’ve raised their own money to do their own study, and they say that’ll be done by the end of this year.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Environment in the State of the State

  • Governor Rick Snyder gives his State of the State address. (Photo courtesy of

In his first State of the State address last night, Governor Rick Snyder made it clear that jobs are his first priority.

But he also made several announcements on conservation and park projects and the Pure Michigan tourism campaign.
He announced that his budget recommendation will include annual funding of $25 million for the Pure Michigan tourism campaign.

“This program supports one of our strongest assets – our water resources and the treasures of the Great Lakes, and it’s an illustration of value for money. It’s positive for our image, and it’s positive return on our tax dollars.”

And he urged the legislature to quickly pass a bill that would implement the recommendations of the Natural Resources Trust Fund board. The board has recommended that $100 million be used to buy land for conservation and parks.

“These projects will positively impact every corner of our state. From Iron County in the Upper Peninsula to Traverse City, to Luna Pier in Monroe County. Also included is a significant expansion of the William T Milliken Park on the Detroit riverfront.”

In his address, Governor Snyder called the Great Lakes “economic engines.”


Ryan Werder is the political director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. He says he’s hopeful that the legislature will follow through on some of the governor’s requests.

“I was on the floor for his speech and on a number of these proposals, the vast majority of them, everybody was standing up. I think natural resources and our environment are a place where everybody in Michigan and everybody on that floor can work together.”

But there was one proposal Werder wasn’t so sure about.

Governor Snyder asked the legislature to strengthen the current program of voluntary environmental standards that’s in place for farmers.

“So that farmers who run environmentally sound operations are protected from unnecessary regulations and frivolous lawsuits. (applause)”

Ryan Werder says he’s not sure Snyder’s plan will be entirely positive.

“How it actually works in practice is a different story. It’s not enough to say to people we trust you to not pollute. We need to actually ensure that they are not.”

The Farm Bureau released a statement after the address. It said that the governor’s approval of voluntary standards would encourage more farmers to comply with the program.


This is the Environment Report.
Companies trying to generate renewable energy with wind are facing opposition up north.

There are no wind farms yet along the coast of Lake Michigan. But large energy companies are planning them near Ludington and Frankfort. Peter Payette reports:

To fit enough wind turbines in one area, developers are proposing to put some as close as a thousand feet to nearby homes.

Some neighbors say the peace and quiet of the countryside will be destroyed by large windmills swooshing around.
They want local governments to require more than a mile between homes and wind farms.

Developers say problems like noise are greatly exaggerated by people who want to ban large wind turbines altogether.

Allan O’Shea represented Duke Energy at a public forum recently.
He said rural areas and farmers who lease their land for turbines will gain a lot from wind energy.

“Our farmers bring us much of our open space and much of our beauty and they have a right to this new kind of architecture that is farming the wind.”

Some local governments in the region have put moratoriums on the construction of wind farms to study the issues.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

RW: Last week, Consumers Energy filed for a permit to build a wind farm south of Ludington. Consumers says it’s planning to build 56 turbines there.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

More Stimulus Money for Michigan Neighborhoods

  • A house set up with a blower door test. Energy auditors use this device to find out where the leaks are in your home. (Photo by Brandon Stafford)

Making a few home upgrades that will lower your heating bill sounds like a good idea.

But many homeowners just can’t afford that upfront investment. And many programs meant to defray some of that cost haven’t gotten much traction with consumers.

But the federal government’s “BetterBuildings” program is trying to change that. It’s just now getting off the ground in Michigan with money from the 2009 stimulus package.

Sarah Cwiek reports:

More information about the BetterBuildings program

A related State of Michigan site


Chris Matus is a young homeowner with a beautiful house. It’s a three-bedroom, 1927 colonial in the hip Detroit suburb of Ferndale. On a recent afternoon, Matus’s house got an energy audit from Kent Trobaugh.
He’s an advisor with the energy efficiency company Well Home.

(nat sound running under)

Trobaugh says the first step to making a home more energy efficient is finding where the leaks are. Trobaugh says homes have a sort of blood pressure, and he’s taking it here with what he calls the “blower door.” It’s a piece of canvas stretched across the front doorframe with a fan that helps depressurize the house.

“When we turn this blower door on it’s kind of like having a 20 mph wind blowing on all sides of the house simultaneously. And it helps us to walk around the house and find where that air is coming from.”

As that happens, Trobaugh and Matus start to roam the house with an infrared camera. The screen shows a landscape of blurred colors: gold is heat, purple is cold. Matus says the whole exercise reminds him of a certain movie from the 1980s.

Chris: “It feels like we’re ghostbusting.” [laughter]
Kent: “Yeah, exactly. The neighbors ask what was going on today, say the ghostbusters were here.”

Overall, Matus is getting about a thousand dollars worth of work done on his house today. But it only costs him 50. That’s because he’s taking advantage of the U.S. Department of Energy’s stimulus-funded BetterBuildings program. Michigan got 30-million dollars—the second-biggest chunk of any state.

For 50 dollars, Matus is getting the energy audit and some basic weatherization: adding insulation, sealing cracks and stuff like that. Matus says he’d love to take advantage of some of the more advanced upgrades Well Home also offers. But in the short term, his goals are a lot more modest.

“It would be fun to be able to say I’m house on the block with a geo-thermal, new hip eco-energy system. But in the short term it’s cost. Anything I can find to help keep my utility bills down is good.”

Program organizers hope that promise of savings will hook more people like Matus into making at least some basic upgrades. The BetterBuildings program is targeting more than 11,000 homes in 27 Michigan communities over the next three years. This Ferndale neighborhood is the first pilot project; organizers hope to choose most of the rest through an application process.

Gillian Ream is an outreach specialist with the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office…one of the many state and local partners implementing the program in Michigan. She says the weatherization package alone will likely reduce a household energy bill by 15-to-20 percent a year.

“You save energy which helps the environment, it reduces the burden on our infrastructure. It saves money for homeowners, which we hope is gonna help them have more money to put into the local economy. And of course it creates jobs.”

Ream says at this point, the biggest obstacle is just getting word out to homeowners.

Ultimately, the Department of Energy hopes the program will get people excited about the idea…hopefully excited enough to grow the energy efficiency industry into a bigger, more sustainable one.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Cwiek.

The BetterBuildings team is going next to Detroit, with six more projects planned for Grand Rapids. Later projects will focus on neighborhoods around the state.

I’m Rebecca Williams.

Oil Spill’s Effect on Turtles and Toads

  • David Mifsud releasing a Midland painted turtle after rehabilitation. (Photo courtesy of Herpetological Resource and Management)

Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Enbridge Energy Partners recently revised its estimate of how much oil spilled from its pipeline into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. They revised it upward to more than 840,000 gallons.

Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.

It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.

After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles… and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.

David Mifsud is a herpetologist. He was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with the initial wildlife recovery.

He says turtles made up the majority of wildlife rescued from the spill site.

“We had some, their mouths were so tacky with the oil they could barely open their mouths. We saw some pretty devastating things.”

A related news story

A related Environment Report story


He says most of the turtles brought to the rehab center survived and were released within the watershed. But more than 400 of them were too weak to be released before winter. So they’re still being held at the rehab center.

And Mifsud says it’s not clear how hard amphibians were hit by the spill. He says frogs and toads breathe through their skin, so oil… not so good for them.

“Amphibians, we only collected 50-60 animals. They would’ve just died very quickly. So we probably lost in these areas huge numbers of our amphibian populations.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to monitor the health of the wildlife and the levels of contamination that remain in the Kalamazoo River area.

It’ll probably take years to fully understand the impacts of the oil spill.


This is the Environment Report.

Sea lampreys are invasive parasites found in every one of the Great Lakes. It’s a fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like trout and salmon… and kills them by drinking their blood.

It costs fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada 20 million dollars a year to control the lamprey.

There’s one secret weapon in development that could eventually save them money… pheromones. Those are odors that male lampreys release to attract the female lampreys.

The lamprey research team in Michigan is starting its third and final year of testing these pheromones in the lab and in the field.

Nick Johnson is a lamprey researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey in Hammond Bay. So Nick, you’re a lamprey matchmaker of sorts?

NJ: (laughs) Of course, yes. I’ve dedicated the last six years to getting lampreys together, not on the spawning nests but into lamprey traps.

RW: Why would you use pheromones?

NJ: Well, pheromones are typically species specific, so they should have minimal impact to other species, they’re highly potent, effective at very low concentrations. So once they’re developed they could be applied relatively cheaply and with little environmental impact.

RW: How’s the testing going so far?

NJ: So far, after two years, traps with synthesized pheromone are capturing more lampreys – right now it’s about 30% more lampreys than the unbaited traps. So we’re encouraged by the results.

RW: Do you think that pheromones will be something of a silver bullet?

NJ: It’s likely that pheromones will not eliminate lampreys from the Great Lakes. What we hope is that the integration of pheromones and the current control techniques will help integrate the overall control program, making our control program more efficient and more effective.

RW: Nick Johnson is a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at Hammond Bay. Thank you so much!

NJ: Thank you, Rebecca.

RW: That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Green Cars: The New Black

  • The Chevrolet Volt was named the 2011 Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show. (Photo courtesy of GM)

In past years, most of the so-called “green cars” at the North American International Auto Show were concept cars – not ready for prime time. This year is different, as Tracy Samilton reports:

The Toyota Prius has been America’s premier environmentally friendly car for ten years. Now, the car has some serious competition. Both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf have an EPA fuel economy rating the equivalent of more than 90 miles to the gallon.

Brad Berman is founder of plug in cars dot com.

“Suddenly it makes the Prius’s 50 mpg seem mild, Now it’s Toyota’s turn to say, hey, we’re still relevant.”

Toyota is turning the Prius into an entire brand. People going to the show will be able to see three new Prius vehicles, including a plug-in being unveiled in Detroit.

For the Environment Report, I’m Tracy Samilton.

AUDIO: “And the 2011 North American Car of the Year is… the Chevrolet Volt.”

(cheers and applause)

The Volt beat out the Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Leaf to take the big prize. The Volt’s a part-electric, part-hybrid car.

With every automaker investing heavily in electric and hybrid technology… it makes you wonder what we’ll be driving five, 10, 50 years from now. Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry for Michigan Radio. She joins me now to talk about this.

So Tracy – we’ve been hearing predictions about the death of the internal combustion engine for a decade – are those predictions coming true?

The North American International Auto Show

A related news story about the Car of the Year Award

How electric cars work


Samilton: No. Based on the way batteries are going now, they’re so expensive that it is still going to be much more economical for most of us to buy a car with a regular internal combustion engine, at least for the next 10, 20 years.

RW: So with all the buzz about the Chevy Volt, how many Volts does GM actually expect to sell this year?

Samilton: Yeah, it’s an interesting situation because they are probably going to sell fewer cars than any other vehicle that won this award. They are probably going to sell 10,000, they are going to build 10,000 cars this year. Next year, maybe 60,000, although GM wants to sell more and is trying to figure out how can we sell more of these vehicles.

RW: At the same time, Consumer Reports recently put out their latest car brand perception survey, and they found out that although most people do want better fuel efficiency, they’re not willing to pay more for it. So, how are automakers going to make these expensive electric and hybrid technologies affordable?

Samilton: That’s a really good question and they’re trying to figure out the answer to that right now. It’s a chicken and egg situation. You know, they have to bring down the cost of the battery, but in order to bring down the cost of the battery, they have to get more of us to buy the car so they can bring down the price through volume. And getting a consumer to say I’m willing to pay that extra money just for the good of say, climate change, is going to be a very difficult proposition.

RW: So what kind of cars do you think we’re going to be driving in the near future and longer term?

Samilton: The internal combustion engine is going to be king for decades, really. For the mid-term, let’s say in the next 20 to 30 to 40 years, we’re going to see more people driving hybrids and plug-in hybrids. And really the long term is way out there in terms of when will the average person perhaps be driving an electric vehicle, maybe by the year 2050 there will be more of these vehicles on the road. And then of course, there is a good chance that we’ll start to see fuel cell vehicles using hydrogen. Very clean vehicles, but also like electric vehicles, very expensive.

RW: Okay, thanks, Tracy.

Samilton: You’re welcome.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry for Michigan Radio. That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

New Great Lakes Leadership & Toxins in Art Supplies

  • Larry Stephens became a professional artist when he was laid off from his auto job two years ago. He's been doing well, even selling paintings to ABC for the TV show Detroit 187. (Photo by Suzy Vuljevic)

Governor Rick Snyder picked outgoing Republican state Senator Patty Birkholtz to lead the Office of the Great Lakes. As you might guess, the director of this office oversees all things Great Lakes. Birkholtz will advise the governor and make policy recommendations on everything from Asian carp to water use.

She says her top priority will be to keep new invasive species out of the Lakes.

Birkholtz says protecting the Great Lakes will lead to a stronger economy.

“When we have a healthy Great Lakes system we have more jobs here in this state as well as regionally, and if we don’t have a healthy Great Lakes system it’s a detriment to not only the jobs situation but also businesses locating here.”

Birkholtz says she’ll go to Washington next month to urge Congress to allocate more money for Great Lakes cleanup projects.


This is the Environment Report.

People talk about suffering for their art… but for visual artists, there may be more truth to that statement than they realize. As Tanya Ott reports, many art supplies contain lead and other potentially dangerous compounds:

(sound of rattling a spray can… then spraying)

Larry Stephens shakes a can of spray paint, then starts applying it to a canvas. First the dark, grassy green. Then a lighter shade.

(newspaper crumbling)

Stephens started painted professionally – under the name Sinister – when he was laid off from an automotive job two years ago. And he’s doing pretty well. He’s even sold some paintings to ABC television for its Detroit 187 series.

Most of the time Stephens paints outside. But in winter, he can’t. So he paints indoors, wearing a respirator or a dust mask. It’s not enough.

“You know within a couple of hours I’ll start getting dizzy. You’ll end up coughing up paint the next morning. You’ll go to blow your nose and it’ll be green and red and yellow and whatever colors you’re using that day.”

Tips from the state of California for safer use of art supplies

Art Safety Guide from Princeton University

Art & Creative Materials Institute


Stephens says for a year his arms and hands were paper white from using thinner to wash off paint. But he’s willing to sacrifice to make art.

“It’s in my blood and it’s what I gotta do.”

In his blood is right! Experts say there are no large scale health studies of people who use art supplies. But Dr. Steven Marcus – who is New Jersey’s poison control chief – says lead, arsenic and cadmium are found in some paint pigments. Stone carving can release asbestos into the air and cause lung disease. And some glues and cements contain chemicals that can cause neurological damage – including a condition called “wrist drop,” where sufferers actually lose strength in their hands.

“And for an artist, that’s their bread and butter. They lose strength in their hands and they can’t be an artist.”

Most art supplies come with warnings – like using proper ventilation – but Marcus says they don’t really define “proper.” And then consider that some artists live and work in the same building…

“You know you can’t wear the respirator 24-7.”

(sound of studio)

Back in his cramped home studio, Larry Stephens knows this too well. About a year ago he had gall bladder surgery. Doctors did a full body scan and found a spot on his lung.

“They said it could be cancer or it could be old scar tissue from pneumonia when I was a kid. And to be honest with you, I don’t even want to know.”

He hasn’t had any follow-up testing. He says can’t afford the 700-dollars a month for health insurance.

“Just not in the cards right now. I’m not going to go in debt for a spot on my lung that could be something or it might not be.”

In the meantime, the U.S. Senate is working on legislation to update the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act. That might help professional artists and hobbyists get a better picture of the true dangers they could face.

For the Environment Report, I’m Tanya Ott.

Court Ruling on Environmental Suits & Tree Recycling

  • Christmas tree drop-off sites are becoming more common. (Photo by mmhaffie, Flickr)

The Michigan Supreme Court says anyone can sue the state if they believe it’s acting in a way that harms the environment. Jennifer Guerra has more on the recent ruling:

Nick Schroeck is with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. He says if a company wants to do something like discharge treated wastewater into a creek or a river, for example, it needs a permit from the state to do so:

“The way our environmental law works, you have to have a permit to pollute, as it were. That means that the state regulates the amount of pollution that’s allowed into the waters of the state.”

Find a drop-off site near you

More uses for Christmas trees

New York City’s Mulchfest


A law called the Michigan Environmental Protection Act or MEPA makes it possible for someone to sue the state for issuing that permit if they think it harms the environment. But a state Supreme Court ruling in 2004 took a restrictive view of who had the right to sue under that law.

That is. until last week’s ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court which says anyone with standing can sue under MEPA:

“Concerned citizens or environmental groups could essentially sue the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment over permitting decisions or failures in their permitting decisions for the state failing to adequately protect the environment.”

That is, they can sue as long as they are sufficiently affected by the matter at hand.

Schroeck calls it…

“A good decision for the environment… for now.”

That’s because the justices voted 4–3 in favor of the more liberal reading of the law. But when conservatives take back the court this month, that decision could be overturned.

For the Environment Report, I’m Jennifer Guerra.


This is the Environment Report.

So you’ve put away all the ornaments and the lights and the tinsel… and you have that bare tree in your living room. It’s not illegal in Michigan to throw your Christmas tree away… but a lot of cities and counties do recycle them… and chip them up into mulch.

Here’s the tricky part: some cities will pick up your tree at the curb… but only on one specific day. Others give you a two week window – usually the first two weeks of January. The City of Ann Arbor cancelled its curbside tree pickup this year to save money… and instead, residents have to haul their tree to a drop-off station.

Marsha Gray is the executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. She says the first thing you should do if you want to recycle your tree is call the people who pick up your trash.

“You want to ask them if they do a separate collection for the trees. If they’re collecting them separately from your regular trash, that means they’re most likely recycling, probably chipping those trees into mulch. If they’re collecting at the same time and they’re going right into the bin that means they will go to the landfill.”

If your waste hauler won’t recycle your tree… Gray says you can call your city or county offices. … especially the parks and public works departments. She says many cities and towns now offer drop-off sites for tree recycling.

Gray says tree recycling has been on the rise in Michigan in the past few years. And they’re not not just being used for mulch.

“Some of the trees are actually sunk into ponds and streams for fish habitat. And they’re actually worked into the sand and soil to prevent beach erosion in the wintertime.”

And of course… you can get creative with the tree in your own backyard.

“A lot of people will put them out if they have bird feeders to let the birds perch in near the feeder while they’re waiting their turn, you can chip it yourself, some people like to have the mulch for their own gardening purposes. I’ve read some really weird and interesting ideas, including, taking the branches and using the actual branch to create a stabilizer for plants.”

Gray says it’s also possible to take a chainsaw to the tree and save the trunk to use as firewood. But there are a couple caveats. She says you shouldn’t burn the branches because they can spark. Also… you’ll have to let the cut-up trunk sit in your log pile and season for a year before you burn it.

You can learn more about reusing Christmas trees on our website, environment report dot org. I’m Rebecca Williams.