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O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging...
Not only green when summer’s here,
But also when ’tis cold and drear...

Hubby Patrick heckled me with his singing because our Christmas tree’s leaves were anything but unchanging. I purchased the tree in that first surge of Christmas spirit I get every year before Thanksgiving weekend is out. Had Patrick been with me when I bought it, he would have picked out one with a thicker trunk. “Holds more water,” he’d have explained, “stays green longer.”

But Patrick wasn’t there, and I picked a pretty, perfectly shaped noble fir, which had a thin trunk and showed signs of drying out within a week. So I had to endure Patrick’s sarcastic caroling as I swept up a pile of amber needles from beneath the tree and hoped the guests due to arrive would only notice the glow of the lights, not the droopy branches of the tree.

That poor tree sat behind the greenery bin for another two months before I finally cut it up and threw it away.

That was last year. This year, the Kelly family is trying to be more organized. We bought a healthier tree, and we will dispose of it properly. Vance Sharp, project manager for I Love a Clean San Diego, filled me in on this year’s tree-disposal options. “In general, the rules are pretty much the same for each of the three major waste-haulers — Waste Management, EDCO, and Allied Waste — no matter what city you are in. As far as tree drop-off locations, the time and the dates are a little bit different from city to city. For all three waste-haulers, if you are a resident and you have a recycling bin, there will be curbside pickup for the two weeks following Christmas. If the tree is taller than six feet, you need to cut the tree up into four-foot sections and put it in the green waste bin, and the waste-hauler will pick it up.”

Those who don’t have a bin “should bring their Christmas tree to one of the drop-off locations in the city. There will be 16 drop-off locations all over the city, open from December 26 to January 23,” continued Sharp. “It is just for residents, and they can drop off their trees anytime during daylight hours. [Go to sandiego.gov/environmental-services/recycling/christmas.shtml for locations.] The basic rules for drop-off: no ornaments, no tinsel, no nails, no tree stands; it has to be the bare tree. And they will take natural as well as flocked trees.”

After pickup, the trees are deposited at the Miramar Landfill. “The trees all go to the greenery, where they are ground up and turned into mulch. The tree needs to be ground up and heated so all the pathogens — any bacteria or damage-causing insects — die. And they just grind it up into mulch at the greenery, and you can go and pick it up. You can pick up to two cubic yards of compost free for city residents. If you want to buy it already packaged, there is some charge for that. It is a good system because it is very high quality mulch. The tree is getting recycled, and it is not going into the landfill where it breaks down. It creates methane if the tree just sits there.”

For disposing of Christmas-tree lights, “LED lights and lights that use fluorescent bulbs of any kind are illegal to throw away. They have to be taken to a household hazardous waste facility because it is considered electronic waste. Incandescent light strings can be thrown away.”

Something to watch for next Christmas season: free LED light exchanges. Sharp says in early December of this year there were a few events around the city for people to exchange their old incandescent strands. “SDG&E offered a free LED light exchange this year. You could exchange your old incandescent strands for LED lighting, which is much more energy efficient and costs a lot less money to use, so you save on their energy bill.”

For more recycling information, check out I Love a Clean San Diego’s website wastefreesd.org or call 858-694-7000 if you are a city of San Diego resident, 877-713-2784 or 877-R-1-Earth if you are in an unincorporated community.

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