In holidays past, a virtual forest of Christmas trees ended up in the local dump, strands of tinsel fluttering in the winter breeze like so much discarded wrappings.
But with state laws pressuring cities to curtail loads of trash to dwindling landfills, most Christmas trees are no longer destined for a post-holiday trash heap.
For the third consecutive year, solid waste managers in Ventura County are mounting an effort to divert as many Christmas trees as possible from the county's landfills.
Out of an estimated 90,000 cut trees bought last year by Ventura County residents, almost two-thirds were recycled into about 526 tons of valuable mulch, said Lorraine Timmons of the Countywide Recycling Consortium.
"Christmas trees make an acidic mulch that's great for roses and azaleas, and they also make a good mulch in general for weed suppression," Timmons said.
After the trees are collected and pulverized, the fine-grained mulch is given away at no charge to county residents at one of two outlets, California Wood Recycling in Ventura and the Worm Concern in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. Customers are required to bring their own containers.
Recycling Christmas trees has also caught on in the commercial Christmas tree industry itself, where retailers traditionally hauled their surplus trees to the nearest dump or stacked them up and burned them.
"If you have Christmas trees left on December 25th, you have a dead duck on your hands," explained Ted Batkin, the executive director of California Christmas Tree Growers, an industry group.
Local tree retailers have responded to the association's encouragement and begun to emphasize recycling, even offering discounts to buyers when they return their trees, Batkin said.
"We've done a lot of work promoting the chipping of surplus trees," Batkin said. "Christmas trees make a great, great mulch."
Eric Werbalowsky, the city of Ventura's recycling coordinator, said it's wrong to think of discarded Christmas trees as waste.
"In recycling, we like to say that waste is a verb," Werbalowsky said. "Green materials like Christmas trees are actually a valuable resource when it is used as compost material or a fuel."
In future years, he said, people will begin to think of lawn clippings and the salad they ate the night before as the potential ingredients for composting.
Werbalowsky calls California Wood Recycling of Ventura the "hidden hero" of local recycling for grinding up to 150 tons of green waste daily into mulch and fuels.
When ground into pieces larger than two inches, the Christmas trees can be sold as boiler fuel to energy production plants in the Central Valley, where a large supply of agricultural wastes makes such power generation practical, said Richard Helland of California Wood Recycling.
Helland said the company plans to sell half of the Christmas trees for boiler fuel to recover the cost of the recycling project. The other half will be made available to the public for free.
"People are really happy with the mulch," Helland said. "Some kept coming back for more last year, saying it looks really good."
Timmons said the recycling consortium is trying to publicize curbside pickup days for Christmas trees because in some areas the trees will be collected on just one day. The recycling haulers themselves lobbied for curbside service as a more efficient way to collect old trees, she said.
Although Christmas trees comprise a relatively small part of the solid-waste stream, recycling them heightens the visibility of the whole recycling movement, Timmons said.
Where to recycle Christmas trees. B4
Where to Recycle Christmas Trees Before recycling Christmas trees, carefully remove all ornaments, nails, tinsel, metal support rods and tree stands. Flocked or fire-proofed trees cannot be accepted for recycling. Place trees at the curb by 7 a.m. on the designated days, even though collection may take several days. For information, call the 24-hour Recycling Hot Line at 654-3935.
Bell Canyon: Curbside collection Jan. 5.
Channel Islands Beach: Curbside collection on normal pickup days Jan. 4 through 8. Can also be dropped off at district office, 353 Santa Monica Drive, Monday to Jan. 15.
El Rio: Curbside collection Jan. 5.
Fillmore: Curbside collection Jan. 7.
Moorpark: Curbside collection Monday through Jan. 8. Or drop off Monday through Jan. 8 at Varsity Park Shopping Center on Princeton Avenue and South Meadows Park on Tierra Rejada Road at Mountain Trail Street.
Oak Park: Curbside collection Jan. 4 through 8. Trees can be dropped off at Oak Park High School, 899 N. Kanan Road, Jan. 9 and 10.
Ojai: Curbside collection by Rubbish Control and Ojai Rubbish in Ojai Valley on Jan. 2. Curbside collection in Upper Ojai by E. J. Harrison & Sons on Jan. 7. Trees can also be dropped off at the anti-litter station on Old Baldwin Road off California 150 on Jan. 9 and 10.
Oxnard: Curbside collection Monday to Jan. 8. Drop-off Monday through Saturday at Bailard Landfill, 4105 W. Gonzales Road.
Piru: Curbside collection Jan. 7.
Point Mugu Naval Base: Curbside collection Jan. 4 and 7.
Port Hueneme: Curbside collection today through Jan. 8.
Santa Paula: City curbside collection Monday through Jan. 8. Curbside collection by E. J. Harrison & Sons on Jan. 7.
Simi Valley: Curbside collection Jan. 4 through 15. Or drop off at the Worm Concern, 1450 Tierra Rejada Road, Monday to Jan. 15.
Somis, Lynn Ranch: Curbside collection Jan. 4.
Thousand Oaks: Drop-off centers will be open daily today through Jan. 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Borchard Park Service Center, 250 Reino Road; Cal Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road; Triunfo Community Park, 980 Aranmoor Ave.; Oakbrook Service Yard, Avenida de los Arboles and Erbes Road, and the park-and-ride lots at Janss Road and California 23 and at the Ventura Freeway and California 23.
Ventura: Curbside collection Jan. 6. Today, through Jan. 9, drop-off at De Anza Middle School, De Anza Drive and Cameron Street.
Free Christmas tree mulch is available Jan. 16 to 23 at:
California Wood Recycling, 3450-A Ventura Road, Ventura; 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Worm Concern, 1450 Tierra Rejada Road, Simi Valley; 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.