Liam Thomas, 2, watched in awe as his beloved Christmas tree was loaded into a gigantic yellow wood chipper yesterday and came spurting out in tiny chunks.
"I like the machine," said Liam, who was sitting atop his father's left hip. The smell of fresh pine cut through the brisk morning air.
Although his father, David Thomas, admits that Liam is too young to understand the importance of recycling, he hopes that bringing his son to the city's annual mulch day at Polytechnic Institute will make a lasting impression.
"You want to instill this in your kids - taking care of the environment," said Thomas, of Roland Park.
Baltimore's Bureau of Solid Waste has sponsored mulch day for more than a decade, according to recycling coordinator Tonya Simmons, who oversees the program. Residents are encouraged to bring their tinsel-free Christmas trees to the site for disposal during the event, which was also held Saturday. In return, they can take home fresh mulch.
Participants are allowed to take as many bags of mulch as the want, Simmons said. Most typically take two bags, she added. The remaining mulch is used in parks and street medians.
"We're reusing what we already have," Simmons said. "Pine needles help to keep the soil warm. It helps plants grow faster."
This year, the city collected 1,046 trees, compared with last year's 1,300.
"The [rainy] weather this morning slowed us down," Simmons said. "We're also in competition with the [NFL] playoffs."
The weather and football didn't keep David Sena away. The Mount Washington resident dropped off his 6-foot tree, picked up two bags of mulch and stuck around a few minutes to let his son Rafael, 3, watch a steady stream of drivers drop off their seasonal centerpieces.
"He likes to see the trees chopped up," Sena, 40, said. "I hope that he learns the importance of recycling. This is our future right here. I want to make sure this planet is around for him. It's very important in our household."
Welferd Johnson, 52, spent the day loading trees into the wood chipper instead of his usual work as a solid waste driver for the city.
"It's been pretty busy," he said in between lifting pines of varying size. "I didn't think this many people would show up. This is very important. These trees have only been around once, but they will help out in the future."
Erin Gille, 16, a junior at the Institute of Notre Dame, persuaded her mother to transport their tree on the roof of her Lexus SUV from their South Baltimore home.
"Erin was holding down on the tree through the sunroof," said Erin's mother, Laura Nickerson. "This is her gig. I just drove the car."
Erin, who is a member of the environmental club at her school, said the mulch event ties into her lifestyle. She tries to recycle everything, she said.
"I didn't want to see [the tree] in the landfill," she said. "It's important that we recycle every day."
Erin's enthusiasm seems to have rubbed off on her mother.
"It's important to her," Nickerson said. "She's a believer; I don't want to tie that down."