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GreenSpace: Prepared for season's greening

Treecycling your Tannenbaum and other tips for reducing and reusing holiday refuse.

At the Roxborough sanitation center, worker Jeffrey West crushes a tree. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
At the Roxborough sanitation center, worker Jeffrey West crushes a tree. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)Read more

I bet your Christmas tree looks gorgeous.

And I'm equally certain that if it's a live tree, in a week or two it will be dropping needles and you'll be eager to get rid of it.

But you're not going to put it out at the curb with the trash, right? That would be naughty, not nice. Instead, recycle - or treecycle - it.

Waste experts say that Americans' trash cans are bulging bigger than Santa's sack in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's. We produce something like 25 percent more trash then that at any other time of year.

So here, starting with the tree, are suggestions for how to responsibly recycle, reduce, and reuse the refuse of all that celebrating.

If you have a backyard with space, just put the tree out there as a mini-wildlife habitat.

Philadelphia - and undoubtedly many suburban communities, so check with officials - has a tree-collection program.

From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 7 to 19, residents can drop off their trees - free of decorations and tinsel, please - at one of these sanitation convenience centers: 3033 S. 63d St.; Domino Lane and Umbria Street; State Road and Ashburner Street.

Last year, residents dropped off 22 tons of trees. They are ground up for mulch or compost.

But I really like the grassroots efforts by many neighborhoods to chip the trees in a central location and then use them in the neighborhoods. Northern Liberties, which started this trend, uses the chips in a dog park.

Fellow green-blogger Lauren E. Leonard has posted a schedule and will update it as needed on her site,

"We've come across a lot of people," Leonard said, "who live sustainably, but who have this guilt about having a live Christmas tree."

But with the chipping, "everyone can see the full circle of their Christmas tree," she said. "It isn't something that's just being grown to kill."

People are so enthusiastic that in Northern Liberties, which asks for a $5 donation to cover costs, many people give more.

As for other holiday items, note that recycling programs vary. But these tips are representative:

Christmas cards. Cut off the fronts and save them to decorate next year's presents. Recycle the backs in your curbside bin.

Wrapping paper. How nice if you've already wrapped your presents in paper left over from something else - the colorful Sunday comics, say, or plain paper that you've decorated with those cards from last year. But whatever you've used, fold the paper flat - sorting equipment can't handle wads as easily - and put it in your curbside bin.

 Ribbon. This can't yet be recycled. All the more reason to skip it, or save the bows for next year.

Gift boxes and cardboard mailing boxes. Flatten and recycle curbside.

Foam packaging peanuts and bubble wrap. Many UPS stores accept these and reuse them.

Electronics. Hang onto the unit long enough to wait for an e-waste recycling event in your area. Or take it to eForce Compliance, an e-waste recycling center on Grays Ferry Avenue ( It is one of the rare recyclers that is an e-Steward, a gold-standard certification that means the entire process is tracked to verify that nothing is handled irresponsibly.

Rechargeable batteries. Dozens of area businesses participate in a collection effort: Call 1-877-273-2925 or visit to find one.

Alkaline batteries. Many Whole Foods stores accept them. And Recycling Services Inc., a recycling nonprofit in Pottstown that takes all kinds of stuff, also accepts silver oxide, nickel cadmium, lithium, and all button batteries (

Eggnog container. Whether it's plastic or a paper carton, you can recycle it in Philly's curbside program. And you do know, of course, that all bottles and cans can be recycled curbside.

Wine and champagne corks. Whole Foods stores accept these as part of their Cork ReHarvest program. The Pottstown recycling place also accepts them.

Christmas light strings. If you haven't replaced these with LED versions, it's time to plan ahead. has a recycling program. Send your old lights - they will recycle the parts - and they'll send you a coupon for 25 percent off new ones. Or remember to check Home Depot on Nov. 1, when they usually offer discounts if you turn in your old incandescent strings, even if they're not working anymore.

 And by the way, if you haven't yet finished shopping, take a cue from Philadelphia Streets Commissioner Clarena W. Tolson, who for years has been giving her three children "Mommy cards."

She makes 15 of them - for dinner out with her, or $40 toward new shoes, or a pass on a particular chore - and lets the kids pick five cards each.

On Christmas morning, the wheeling and dealing among them is vigorous, and part of the fun.

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