By Julie Bonnin

Attention all recycling innovators: they city of Houston has launched a nationwide contest designed to create new markets for recycled tree limbs and make use of the mountains of woody vegetation left in Hurricane Ike’s wake.

With enough tree trunks, branches and other tree remnants to fill Houston’s Astrodome nearly four times, the debris- 5.6 million cubic yards — far surpasses what can be used locally for mulch.

So with the help of a private donation, the city has launched “Recycle Ike,” and Mayor Bill White has said he hopes the contest will spark the country’s single biggest recycling project this year.

First, second and third place winners will be paid $10,000, $5,000 and $2,500 for the best ideas on what to do with the massive amount of wood scrap remains from the Houston metropolitan area. The city has already given 700,000 cubic yards to companies that manufacture mulch and compost. Some ideas that have come up for consideration – like selling the wood ships to fuel boilers – have proven impractical due to the cost of shipping the chips around the country.

The city is considering using the tree waste for erosion control and electric generation, but hopes to generate additional sustainable proposals by launching the contest.

You don’t have a lot of time to brainstorm. Participants must register with the city by midnight Oct. 31 and have their ideas submitted by midnight Nov. 14. Proposals should focus on projects that can benefit the city and be sustainable. Email your idea to recycleIke@cityofhouston.net or go to the RecycleIke website for more details.

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