Counties encourage Christmas tree recycling

Now that the madness of Christmas is over, San Francisco and Peninsula residents are being urged to recycle their holiday trees instead of dumping them in the trash.

In most areas, it’s as simple tossing your timber to the curb and your tree will be on its way back to life as garden mulch or efficient power plant fuel.

“Throughout the U.S., about half of Christmas trees are still going to landfills,” according to Dianne Anderson, spokeswoman for San Mateo County’s recycling department, RecycleWorks. That’s out of 33 million trees sold nationwide, the National Christmas Tree Association estimates.

“It’s easier to do the right thing than to throw it away,” said Mark Westlund, spokesman for San Francisco’s recycling department, SF Environment. City residents should leave their uncut trees on the curb between Jan. 2 and Jan. 9, one day after their regular recycling day because of the holiday.

On the Peninsula, most communities offer curbside pickup starting Wednesday, including those within the Allied Waste, San Bruno Garbage Co. and South San Francisco Scavenger Co. service areas, Anderson said. Trees should be cut into 4-foot sections.

Allied Waste delays service one day this week and next, but single-family households can put trees out with the trash on their regular pickup day. Multi-family Allied Waste dwellings and all other Peninsula residents should call their service provider to check on their holiday schedules, which vary, according to Anderson.

Most of the Peninsula’s trees go to the composting plant at Newby Island in Milpitas, Anderson said. “We have a grinder that you could drop a six-foot trunk into and it will spit out wood chips,” generalmanager Mark Buntjer said. “In the next 40 days, it becomes compost.”

San Francisco recycles most of the 400 to 500 tons of trees it collects each year, said Robert Reed, spokesman for San Francisco’s Norcal Waste Systems Inc. They go through a giant wood chipper and are turned into mulch, placed under city park benches, and used for weed-control near freeway entrances, he said. “The chips are wonderful to keep weeds down,” he said. “Some of it also gets used as fuel for power plants,” he said.

Trash companies all require trees to be free of tinsel, fake ornaments, lights, stands and plastic coverings. Flocked trees covered in artificial snow can’t be recycled due to their chemical content.

Tempted to toss the tree in your backyard compost pile? “It

wouldn’t work,’’ Westlund said. Christmas trees, layered with thick pine tar, are too acidic for personal composting, which doesn’t generate enough heat to break them down.

eholt@examiner.com

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