City of Berkeley requires Christmas trees for pickup to fit in compost bins

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The city of Berkeley announced a new policy Dec. 18, 2018 regarding the collection of holiday trees for composting this year, asking residents to trim trees to fit in their compost bins.

In previous years, the city has picked up trees left on residents’ curbs, but regulations have grown stricter each year. Two years ago, the city picked up trees under five feet tall, according to Berkeleyside, and last year it said it would pick up trees under four feet. Now, trees must fit entirely into closed compost bins, which stand at four feet tall.

The city set aside two Saturdays in January to collect trees left on the curb, according to city recycling manager Heidi Obermeit. Still, some Berkeley residents have expressed dissatisfaction about the new policy, according to Berkeleyside.

Obermeit said in an email that there are a number of reasons for the change. Trees consistently damage collection trucks, according to Obermeit, leaving the trucks inactive while waiting for repairs for weeks or longer. Additionally, the city hopes that asking residents to place trees in compost bins will encourage residents to remove noncompostable items including ornaments and stands from trees, ensuring that they are composted successfully, Obermeit said in an email.

The new policy will also reduce the number of necessary collection trips and will reduce driver injuries resulting from loading larger trees onto collection trucks, according to Obermeit.

“We have received a few complaints about the policy change, but many community members don’t have a problem placing their trees inside their compost cart like they do with all other plant debris, or bringing their tree to the Transfer Station,” Obermeit said in an email. “We are asking for behavior change, and we know it will take time for community members to adapt.”

The change was made administratively, and Berkeleyside reported that Mayor Jesse Arreguín told a community member in an email he was only recently made aware of the change.

“I have already connected with our City Manager asking for an explanation of why this policy was changed, and asking that we revert to the old practice of recycling whole trees,” Arreguín wrote in the email, according to Berkeleyside.

Obermeit suggested several environmentally friendly alternatives to fresh cut Christmas trees, including potted living Christmas trees that can be maintained year to year and living Christmas trees that can be rented.

Community members can drop off whole trees at the Berkeley Transfer Station for free during the month of January, Obermeit added in an email. The city’s goal is zero waste, and it encourages residents to avoid buying trees that are “flocked” with fake snow, as they are not compostable, according to Obermeit.

Contact Olivia Nouriani at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.