Mulch, zero waste and free!

Hello my fellow Chattanoogan gardeners!

Having a garden, even a small one, is such a joy! But doing so without creating plastic has had some of its own challenges. Today’s challenge is about mulch. Read my post about potting soil here. If you need a ton of mulch (like, literally, a ton), scroll down to the end of the post. But if you just need a few bags worth or a pickup truck’s worth, keep reading.


You need mulch in your garden to help keep the soil moist and reduce the amount of water you use. It also adds organic matter as it breaks down. Some people use straw, and if you find a zero waste way to get straw, comment below!

I used to spend our hard-earned money to buy mulch in plastic bags. Since plastic doesn’t break down, every bag of mulch I’ve ever bought is still out there somewhere. Yikes! Time to find a better solution.

The good news is, it is easy to get plastic free mulch in Chattanooga. And on top of that, it is free!

Any person with a Chattanooga address can get free mulch from the Chattanooga Wood Recycling center run by the city. They take the tree limbs and yard clippings from residents and chip it. Then they put it in big piles and let it age for a while. The mulch is good quality. The wood is shredded into small pieces and they often have the choice between light colored and dark colored.

Tree branches being chipped at the recycle center

If you need a lot, borrow a truck from a friend and get a whole load. They weigh your truck on a giant drive-on scale before an after, as you are limited to one ton per day (yes, one ton!).

If you only need a little, do what I did:

I pulled up to the little station house and told the guy I was there to get some mulch. He looked curiously at my little Prius, with 2 little girls strapped in carseats in the back and asked me “What are you going to put it in?” πŸ™‚ I had a empty storage tote and 5 gallon bucket in my trunk. He let me skip weighing in and out and told me to just pick whichever pile I wanted to fill my containers.

I drove up right next to a pile of mulch as tall as a one story house. I had forgotten a shovel, but one of the workers came over and helped me fill it up after watching be pitifully fill it with my bare hands. It took only a few minutes and I had all the mulch I wanted. For free!

Trying to fill my containers by hand. Next time I’ll bring a shovel!


Our load of mulch

A note to those of you who live outside the city: You can still get mulch at the same place, there is just a small fee. It costs $20 per ton. Yes, again, per ton–which is about a full pickup truck load! That beats the Walmart price by a mile! The only hitch is that there is a $20 minimum. I would say that if you have enough property, just borrow a truck and put a big pile in the corner of your property to use over the next few years. Yes, it will start to break down some, but that is actually desirable as it adds good organic material to your garden. Another good option would be to split a load (maybe with a friend who has a truck!). You will not only save money, but also feel good about protecting the planet.

Here are the details on the Wood Recycle Center:

Address: 4063 North Hawthorne Street

Hours: Mon-Sat, 8am-4pm

The mulch at work in one of our garden beds

Getting a TON of wood chips for free

If you are in need of a huge pile of mulch, then Chip Drop might be a good option. Chip Drop is a free service that connects tree service companies with people who need wood chips. Often, companies have to pay to off-load their wood chips after removing a tree. They pay a small fee instead to use the website to find people who will take their wood chips for them. The only catch is that you have to take the entire truckload! We did it once and below is the pile we received! It was lots of fun for the kids to play on! And it is usually a mix of wood with leaves, which is great for improving your soil’s nutrients.

7 thoughts on “Mulch, zero waste and free!”

  1. First of all, your tagline is awesome! -One family’s journey to zero waste in Chattanooga, TN
    Second, Hellos from Florida, I recently picked up enough mulch for myself and my neighbor, and now three neighbors are getting together to do the same after noticing that our trees are doing better, that theirs without fertilizer.

    all I did was google free mulch near my city and it took me directly to it. Advise bring a shovel and a hat if they tell you, you have to load it yourself.


    1. Hello! Good to hear that other cities have mulch programs too! It makes sense for cities to take yard waste and turn it into a valuable landscaping material. Yes, I forgot a shovel the first time I went to fill my container and had to scoop it all in by hand!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing! I have just started reading your blog because I am working toward a zero waste lifestyle (especially plastic waste) in Chattanooga! There is another good resource in town for gardeners – Compost House. If you don’t already compost, this company will pick up your compostable waste and turn it into finished compost. 10 gallons of finished compost per month is included in the cost ($14/month, at the lowest).
    I’m looking forward to reading through your blog and learning new ways to reduce plastic waste!


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