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Christmas tree recycling programs take shape in Sonoma County

Equipped with a pair of thick gloves, Bennett Valley resident Steve Orlick tossed his 5-foot-tall Christmas tree into a large metal bin at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds parking lot on Wednesday, adding to a heap of discarded trees that will soon be given new purpose.

The drop-off site is the one Orlick and his wife go to recycle their tree every year, he said, commending the convenience of the service.

“We’re very dedicated to recycling and being environmentally conscious,” Orlick said, adding that he figured his tree would soon be repurposed into mulch. “It was time to return it.”

The drop-off site at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds is one of several options Sonoma County residents have to dispose of their Christmas trees without sending them to a landfill.

Throughout the county, tree drop-offs for unflocked trees are available at various locations, including the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in Petaluma, and the Rohnert Park Community Center.

Those looking to stay close to home can still discard of their Christmas trees through their regular yard waste collection, though it’ll take most Sonoma County residents a little more work to make them pickup ready.

Three hauling companies, Recology Sonoma Marin, Sonoma County Resources Recovery and Sonoma Garbage Collectors, take the lead in collecting the trees, said Sloane Pagal, the program manager for Zero Waste Sonoma, a government agency that works on local organic, household hazardous waste and recycling education.

Most are shipped off to Cold Creek Compost in Ukiah, where they are turned into compost. They can also be turned into mulch, she said.

“They grid them up and turn them into high-quality, organic compost,” Pagal said of the Ukiah company. “Just remember to remove all the ornaments and definitely don’t put any Christmas lights into the (recycling) bin either.”

Whole tree curbside pickup is an option for Windsor residents as part of their regular waste collection. For residents outside of the Windsor town limits, trees will need to be cut down to fit inside waste bins before they are picked up, Pagal said.

Each tree must be free of decorations and metal stakes. Flocked trees, or trees covered with white synthetic powder to give the illusion of freshly fallen snow, cannot be composted, Pagal added.

Zero Waste Sonoma also works with several local Boy and Girl Scout troops to offer whole tree pickups with a suggested donation of $7 for trees under 6 feet tall and $10 for larger trees.

Boy Scout Troop 8 in Petaluma is just one of the handful of troops that collect Christmas trees curbside in Sonoma County every year, in part because it serves as the largest fundraiser for their annual summer camp, committee chairwoman for the troop Jennifer Masterson said.

The experience also serves as a way to learn about tree recycling and hazardous waste materials, such as the substances used to flock Christmas trees, Masterson said.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, parents are required to drive their children to the pickup locations as opposed to having a troop leader drive the Scouts to retrieve the Christmas trees, which is how they’ve done it in the past, she said.

“It’s more family participation, because we can’t have the kids out individually with the troop leaders,” Masterson said. “With the vaccines coming out, we’re hopeful that the Scouts can go out (to camp) this year.”

Sarah Taube, co-owner of Badger Ranch in Sebastopol, says she’s been feeding her trip of goats Christmas trees for the past three years.

She initially sourced the trees from friends but has taken to the ranch’s social media pages more recently to let community members know they can drop off their used trees at her Sebastopol property.

“The goats like it,” Taube said. ”This time of year, the grass is still newly growing and I’m supplementing them with alfalfa and ryegrass. The Christmas trees are not a main source of food for them, but they’re more of a treat.“

Anyone wishing to schedule a tree pickup from a local nonprofit can call 707-565-3333. A full list of tree drop-off locations, dates and times is available at the Zero Waste Sonoma website.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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