Christmas tree recycling promoted by SF

San Francisco Chronicle, December 28, 2011

The earsplitting howl of the wood chipper signaled an early end of the holiday season for more than two dozen Christmas trees at San Francisco’s Civic Center Tuesday.

As workers for Recology, the city’s garbage company, fed the leftovers from tree sales lots into the maw of the giant green machine, a steady stream of wood chips flew out the other end into a waiting truck.

“We’re trying to educate the public to not just toss their old Christmas trees in the back yard, but put them out with their regular trash so they can be chipped and sent out to energy facilities in Woodland and Tracy,” said Kevin Danaher, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Environment.

“This is a resource,” added Robert Reed of Recology. “We need to use it.”

This isn’t something new for the city, which has been “treecycling” the holiday foliage for 25 years. But recent years have seen a boost in efforts both to find new sources of energy for the country and to reuse what once went straight to the landfill.

“We’re now capturing 78 percent of the city’s waste for recycling and composting,” Danaher added. Chipping the city’s tens of thousands of Christmas trees “is upcycling, which means taking something out of the waste stream and creating a new product, in this case, energy.”

Composting isn’t an option for the evergreens, because they’re too acidic to properly decompose. But last year the city turned Christmas trees into 514 tons of wood chips, which can provide 75 percent of the energy of coal, said Jared Blumenfeld, a regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency. A Nevada power company already is paying people $1 each for their trees.

In San Francisco, trees can be left out on the regular trash collection days in the two weeks after New Year’s Day, said Reed. The trees should be stripped of all tinsel, string, stands, flocking and wires and set outside, separate from the regular trash bins.

The tree-chipping program also provides a bit of welcome relief at the city’s often-aromatic trash transfer station, better know as the dump on the Brisbane border.

“We’ll have so many trees down at the dump in the next two weeks the whole place will smell like Christmas trees,” Reed said.