Elected officials like to target free services as a way to save money. But one community’s free yard waste pickup and disposal program is so cost-effective, that eliminating it would be political suicide.

Located about 20 miles northeast of Detroit, Clinton Township is one of Michigan’s largest charter townships. In addition to waste removal, sewer and water pipe cleaning, road repair, and building maintenance, the Department of Public Works has provided this extremely popular service for at least 21 years.

Municipalities that take green waste usually subcontract the work out to private firms that, in turn, bill the city or resident. Clinton Township residents, however, call public works to schedule a pickup. Every Monday through Friday, an 8-cubic-yard GMC 4500 truck hauling a Morbark Inc. Beever M14R brush chipper makes about 30 stops. Average daily output: 32 cubic yards of mulch.

“We can be at a house and done chipping their pile in less than 10 minutes,” says Tom Klapp, the department’s chief inspector. “The only thing we try to avoid, to minimize traffic concerns, is a conflict with garbage trucks on their rounds.”

A typical pickup might include bundles of brush from a weekend trimming or piles of branches from tree prunings. Although the department doesn’t limit the volume of debris that can be placed curbside, stumps and limbs 14 inches or larger in diameter are not accepted. Residents are urged to use anything less than 4 feet long for firewood.

The township spreads the mulch on nature trails and gives the rest to a company that picks it up and redistributes it to local nurseries. Residents, of course, can keep as much as they like or have the department deliver a half (4 cubic yard) or full truckload for free.

“It’s all reused,” says Klapp. “Nothing goes to the landfill.”

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