Why you should recycle your Christmas tree in Philly

2019 is here, but as you welcome in the New Year, think twice about how you toss out your old Christmas tree.

Across Philadelphia, old Christmas trees are piling up on sidewalks and curbs in anticipation of being picked up by Philly’s trash collectors. And sure, that’s one way to get rid of the tree that made your child’s eyes sparkle as they caroled ‘Jingle Bells.’

But your kids would probably cry if they knew what happened to that Fraser fir once it is picked up by the garbage truck – destined for landfills with the rest of the trash, where it will add to Philly’s carbon footprint.

Other cities like New York offer curbside pick-up programs that take the Christmas tree from your street and mulch it for you. But in Philadelphia, you have to bring it to a special recycling center yourself, and there’s only a limited time window to do it.

Philadelphia’s Christmas Tree Recycling Program, from Jan. 2–12, will be accepting trees from residents at the Streets Department’s six sanitation convenience centers, and on the next two Saturdays, Jan. 5 and Jan. 12, at 23 additional locations.

“By diverting tons and tons of valuable recyclable materials from the landfill, you’re helping the City reach its 90 percent zero waste and litter-free goal and making Philly more sustainable for all,” the Streets Department said.

Christmas trees getting mulched

A Christmas tree being properly chipped for mulch. (ALLISON MEIER/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS)

According to some environmentalists, trees should never be disposed of in landfills, because if they end up buried in a pile of trash, they will end up causing the most possible environmental harm.

Mired in muck, trees decaying in a deoxygenated atmosphere will convert the carbon the tree has sucked out of the atmosphere into methane, an even more harmful greenhouse gas that will eventually leech back into the atmosphere, experts say. Methane gas is reputedly 21 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a century.

If you do toss your tree in a landfill, try to place it on the surface and exposed to the atmosphere – where it can at least decay as carbon dioxide, a less dangerous gas. Burning the trees will have the same effect of releasing the net carbon it has consumed over its lifespan.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting that dumping a Christmas tree in a landfill is worse than driving an SUV. But if you are looking to lessen your environmental impact, ditching the tree on the curb is definitely not the way to go.

So what’s the better alternative? Recycling the tree by composting it or turning it in into mulch. By preserving the woody structure of the tree, the carbon is retained in plant form, not released back into the atmosphere. It can also be reused to grow new plant life in a community garden.

Trees recycled at the Streets Department will be sent to a vendor who chips them into a bulking agent for mulch.  To recycle your tree, it must be free of decorations and ornaments and not tied up.

You can recycle your tree in Philadelphia by dropping it off through Jan. 12 at the following six locations:

-3901 N. Delaware Avenue
-2601 West Glenwood Ave
-3033 South 63rd Street
-Domino Lane and Umbria Street
-State Road and Ashburner Street

To make access even easier, on the next two Saturdays, Jan. 5 and Jan. 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the city will open up 23 locations where trees can be dropped off, and civic associations are accepting trees on Jan. 5 at five more locations during the same time-frame.

To find a Saturday drop-off location near you, visit philadelphiastreets.com/holiday.

For questions about the Christmas Tree Recycling Program, contact the Customer Affairs Unit at 215-686-5560, or call 311.

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