How to Recycle Your Christmas Tree After the Holidays

Christmas Tree Recycling n the Bay Area:
Dispose, recycle or plant your tree?
(Note: this page is updated right before and after Christmas!)

 
Christmas is over, the egg nog has gone off, the relatives finally departed... and you're left packing up the lights and ornaments and wondering what to do with the Christmas tree.  Put it out by the curb and hope that the garbage men will take it away.  Not likely.  Put it in a corner of the yard and believe it may break down.  Not in your lifetime.  So what? According to the National Christmas Tree Association's website, "There are approximately 30-35 million Real Christmas Trees sold in the U.S. every year." Make sure your tree gets recycled to help the environment rather than become waste!

San Francisco is a leader in helping its residents to put their used Christmas tree to good use. by offering curbside pick up and drop off locations where trees will be accepted to be recycled.  Look below on this page for both general tips and options specific to your local area.

Not in the Bay area?  See this page for Christmas tree recycling in other parts of California and the rest of the United States.

What Are Your Recycling Choices?

After the holidays, donít throw your natural tree away!  Here are some tips on what to do with your tree after the holidays. In general, you have these options:

  1. Curbside pick-up for recycling - Most areas will collect trees during their regular pickup schedules on the 2 weeks following Christmas.  There are often requirements for size, removing ornaments, flocking, etc; see below for details.
  2. Call for an appointment to have a non-profit in your area pickup your tree. Some boy scout troops are offering a pickup service for a small donation (often $5).
  3. Take your tree to a drop off recycling center. Most counties have free drop-off locations throughout the county. Usually, you may take up to two trees to any of the following drop-off locations at no charge.
  4. Cut the tree to fit loosely into your yard waste container.

Other tips and ideas

After the holidays, donít throw your natural tree away!  Here are some tips on what to do with your tree after the holidays:

  • Removing the tree: The best way to avoid a mess removing your tree is to place a plastic tree bag (which are available at hardware stores) underneath the stand when you set the tree up! You can hide it with a tree skirt. Then, when the holidays are done, pull the bag up around the tree, stand and all, and carry it outside. Obviously, you will want to remove the stand before recycling the tree. If some needles do scatter inside, it is better to sweep them up; as needles can clog vacuum cleaners.
  • Tree Recycling / Mulching programs are a fast-growing trend in communities throughout the nation. Check below on this page or with your local department of public works for information. They chip and shred the trees, then make the mulch available for use in your garden.  Your hauler will notify you of pick-up dates in your area. There are a few things you must do to make your tree ready for RECYCLING. Here are some general tips - but be sure to check with your local hauler - these are just general guidelines! To find your local hauler:
    If it is Waste Management Inc (WM), click here to find your Local WM Service Provider's Website - or click here to contact Your Local WM Customer Service Center by Phone - find the 1-800 number of your Local Customer Service Center
    If your local hauler is AW / BFI (Allied Waste) - Click here to locate the contact information for your local hauler.
  • Soil erosion barriers: Some communities use Christmas trees to make effective sand and soil erosion barriers, especially at beaches and on river beds.
  • Fish feeders: Sunk into private fish ponds trees make excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.
  • Bird feeders: Place the Christmas tree in the garden or backyard and use it as a bird feeder and sanctuary. Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds and they can sit in the branches for shelter. (Make sure all decorations, hooks, garland and tinsel strands are removed).  Eventually (within a year) the branches will become brittle and you can break the tree apart by hand or chip it in a chipper.  See this article from Perdue University for more information.
  • Mulch: A Christmas tree is biodegradable; its branches may be removed, chipped, and used as mulch in the garden. If you have a neighbor with a chip, see if he will chip it for you.
  • Paths for Hiking Trails - some counties use the shredded trees as a free, renewable and natural path material that fits both the environment and the needs of hikers!
  • Living, rooted trees: Of course, next year, you could get a rooted (ball and burlapped or containerized) tree and then plant it in your yard after Christmas (It's a good idea to pre-dig the hole in the late Fall while the soil is still soft, then plant the tree into that hole immediately after Christmas.) NOTE: Living trees have a better survival rate in mild climates, than in a northern area.
  • Important: Never burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove. Pines, firs and other evergreens have a high content of flammable turpentine oils.  Burning the tree may contribute to creosote buildup and risk a chimney fire.

Local Options

Unless otherwise noted, all stands, lights, decorations, and tinsel must be removed. Artificial Christmas trees can not be recycled. They must go out with the garbage.

General tips for most haulers:

  1. Remove all ornaments, tinsel, lights, and other NON-Organic decorative materials. This includes tree stands also.
  2. Trees are often required to be cut into 4 ft lengths; so you may need to cut your tree in half. In some locales, the trees must be cut small enough to fit inside your green (yard waste) container.
  3. In most Bay area locations flocked trees may not be recycled; they must go into the trash. Flocked trees often have special requirements, due to the chemical content. Some will need to be chopped-up and disposed with regular solid waste, other recyclers have special drop off locations where they can handle them safely.  If your tree is flocked check the links below for special requirements for your area, and call your facility or hauler to be sure nothing has changed!
  4. Trees are usually collected curbside for two weeks after Christmas.
  5. FREE Drop-off locations are also commonly available
  6. If you miss the collection period, you can cut-up the tree and place it in your green (yard waste) container for pick-up on the regularly scheduled service day; assuming your area has a yard waste collection program to which you subscribe.

Click on the links below to find your local Christmas tree recycling options.

Some of these links take you to a Earth911.org page for your state, and you will need to click on the name of the city closest to you. In others cases, specific local options are below:


San Francisco, Bay area and Surrounding Counties

  • San Francisco - See this website for SF residents information. San Francisco residents and businesses may recycle their Christmas trees in several ways:
    1) Curbside Pick Up from December 31-January 11 (On the resident's regular recycling day)
    2) Drop Off at Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council from December 26-January 12 at 780 Frederick St. or
    3) Drop Off at Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling from December 26-January 11 at 900 7th St./Berry
    • Instructions: No flocked trees (sprayed with fake snow),
    • Remove any metal or plastic base (wood bases are okay)
    • Remove all lights, tinsel and other decorations
    • No trees in plastic bags

    Also see the Sunset Scavenger Curbside Program, San Francisco, CA 94134. Phone: (415) 330-1300. Open: Please call for their curbside collection schedule.

Surrounding areas

 

Events, Other information and related links: