It’s that time of year! As the holidays pass the question becomes: How do I properly dispose of the fading tree? Luckily, it’s more straightforward than you think. Here, find a helpful how-to for properly disposing of your tree.
No matter if your tree is compostable, flocked (fake snow), or plastic, you have two options for disposal: curbside pick-up or drop-off. Whole trees can damage the City’s collection trucks, that is why they will not be picked up if you leave them at the curb as is (pictured below).
For curbside pick-up:
Please cut or disassemble your tree to fit inside the proper cart with the lid closed. Compostable trees can go in your green cart, just don’t forget to remove the tree stand and decoration. Flocked and plastic trees go in your grey landfill cart. If you’re in need of tools to cut your tree down to size, we suggest checking with the Berkeley Tool Library or considering drop-off.
You can bring your whole tree to the Berkeley Transfer Station located at 1201 Second Street, Monday through Saturday 8am – 4:30pm. Through the month of January compostable trees are accepted for free! There is a $29 fee for dropping-off flocked and plastic trees, and a minimum $23 fee for compostable trees after January 31st.
Of course, we encourage you to store and reuse decorations again next year and in years to come. For more information about disposing of holiday decorations, check out Resourceful.
Avoid Waste Next Year with these Tree Alternatives!
Even easier than figuring out how to dispose of your tree is avoiding a traditional “live” tree. This can mean avoiding toxics in the land and waterways, since tree farms often use pesticides and petrochemical fertilizers that can be harmful to soil quality, wildlife, and other ecosystems. Additionally, trees can take up to ten years to grow, only to be used for about a month. Potted plants, like a rosemary “Christmas tree,” are a common substitute which smell great and you can keep them all year. Another option is to get creative with pieces like wreaths, branches, or other items around the house and your neighborhood to make a DIY display “tree.”
Evergreen branches can be found at tree lots around town, and can cost you as little as nothing. The sales lots are often asked to cut off limbs or shorten the tree, potentially treating these trimmed boughs as waste. These options could be reused or recreated year after year!
Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco, San Mateo, El Cerrito, and every other municipality I can think of near and far offer curbside pickup of Xmas trees. It cannot be the case that Berkeley alone cares for the well being of its collection trucks – simply put, every other city does it, so Berkeley could also pick up trees curbside. Instead, the city, which refuses to upgrade our green bin size despite the presence of 3 large city trees whose leaves we must rake and compost annually into a tiny bin over the course of several weeks, requires households to drive their tree to the transfer station – a far more polluting activity than sanitation trucks on their pre-existing routes. I note that the transfer station is also closed on Sundays, which has at least my household taking time from work to dispose of our tree. The current policy makes no sense either ecologically or logistically.
As for the zero waste suggestions, I read it with the implication is that maybe we don’t deserve to have our trees picked up because it is wasteful to have one? I would prefer that you continue to focus your energy on the petrochemical industry lies that have resulted in only 10% of “recyclable” plastic finding reuse and the plague of wasteful and unnecessary packaging that so much of our food and other goods come in. Holding regular consumers to a nearly unreachable standard of virtue, given the political economy they are situated in plays directly into the “it’s your fault” playbook used by both the petrochemical and climate denial industries to avoid accountability for their actions.
Tree farms provide income to rural communities and are more ecologically stable than standard agricultural crops. Trees sequester carbon as they grow, so there can be climate benefits to growing them, depending on their transport and disposal. On top of that, for many of us in SF and the East Bay, our trees were sold by formerly incarcerated workers, and therefore also play a role in helping those folks get back on their feet and putting some money in their pockets.
Putting up a Christmas trees is also part of a cultural tradition that goes back hundreds of years, symbolizing the potential for regrowth at the time of the darkest days of the year and they are absolutely magical in their effect on children, especially Covid weary children who have had so many restrictions placed on their lives. My children asked to sleep in their sleeping bags next to the tree on New Year’s Eve. That was not a waste.
Mr. Borgeson. Thank you for your comments and your concerns regarding the proper disposal of “spent” Holiday Trees, and how the City of Berkeley deals with collection of them. Our blog post was meant to inform our members and others about the current process for disposal of Holiday Trees in Berkeley. The Ecology Center does not collect green waste (this is a different contract with the City of Berkeley), we are only contracted to collect your curbside recycling (the blue cart).
As regards the capacity of your green cart, that is a Dep’t. Of Public Works issue. In order to contact the City of Berkeley’s Department of Public Works, please refer to this –
Phone: (510) 981-6300 (510) 981-CITY/2489
As regards our blog, we do mention that you can place your Holiday Tree in the green cart – “Please cut or disassemble your tree to fit inside the proper cart with the lid closed.”. This follows the City’s green cart standards as stated – “NO logs, stumps, or branches bigger than 3″ in diameter or more than 3′ long”. So, we did not insist that you drive your tree to the Transfer Station, but that your regularly scheduled green waste truck will collect it (if properly placed in the green cart).
Many of our members and readers like to hear alternatives to current habits, one being the purchasing of a “cut” tree. We offered alternatives to buying a cut tree, and some thoughts on why this might be something to consider. I hope that you will agree that any system of agriculture which uses synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides is not something we want to promote. It may be useful to start locating and supporting ‘organic’ Christmas Tree growers.
Certainly, your mention of our cultural traditions is relevant. Bringing evergreen boughs into the home, goes much further back than bringing-in whole trees, and allows the living trees (outdoors) to continue to sequester carbon as they grow. We stated, “Evergreen branches can be found at tree lots around town, and can cost you as little as nothing”.
Again, your comments and concerns are appreciated and I hope that your communications with the City of Berkeley will resolve the points you addressed in your comment.
Can this post be edited to indicate that the transfer station is not open on Sundays? We just borrowed a truck and drove a trip 8 miles round trip from our house. Oops.
Yes, thank you for this suggestion! We have just updated the post.
For drop off at the transfer station – is there anyone to assist with unloading the tree from one’s car if I show up solo?
Hi Sarah, thanks for the question. I just double-checked and unfortunately there is not, the transfer station is a self-service facility.