As is tradition during these dreary first days of the new year in which any lingering seasonal cheer is packed away in oversized plastic bins and hauled up the attic, here’s a look at how one city is handling a certain type of ubiquitous organic waste that, by now, is probably just a sad and dehydrated fire hazard sitting in the corner of your living room.
Liked many cities and municipalities with already-strong recycling programs, the parched and proudly peculiar city of Austin, Texas, offers residents a couple of options when it comes to disposing of de-flocked Christmas trees. Through
The Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts Austin Resource Recovery, the city’s snappily named solid waste department that launched a comprehensive curbside compost pilot program at around this time last year, residents can go the easy route and drag their expired firs — provided that all the tinsel, trim, and ornaments have been removed and that trees over 6-feet tall have been cut in half — to the curb on regular assigned trash and yard trimmings pickup days.
With this, comes the peace of mind that the trees won’t be landfilled like in some other cities (I’m looking at you, Philly) but instead composted and transformed into Dillo Dirt, the city’s signature compost — yes, Austin has a signature, trademarked compost — which, in addition to curbside-collected yard trimmings and Christmas trees, contains treated municipal sewer sludge.
A bit more on Dillo Dirt, an available-to-the-public biosolid named after the nine-banded armadillo and used across the city for municipal landscaping projects:
Dillo Dirt is a compost made by the City of Austin since 1989. If you know Austin, you will not be surprised to learn that it was the first program of its kind in the state and one of the oldest in the nation. All yard trimmings collected curbside across the City as well as some of our treated sewage sludge are combined and composted to create Dillo Dirt. The heat generated in composting (130 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit) is sufficient to virtually eliminate human and plant pathogens. After active composting for over a month, our compost is ‘cured’ for several months, then screened to produce finished Dillo Dirt.
Dillo Dirt easily meets all Texas and EPA requirements for ‘unrestricted’ use, which even includes vegetable gardens, if you desire. Like many other composts, Dillo Dirt has many benefits to the soil and plants. Composts add to the organic matter in the soil, reducing watering. Organic matter feeds the microbes in the soil as well as plants, making a more healthy environment. Dillo Dirt is made from totally recycled materials, and this recycling is less expensive to citizens than landfilling these materials.
Despite the city's reassurance that Dillo Dirt is completely safe, it has been subject to some controversy over the years and was blamed for an outbreak of gnarly rashes following a smelly, mud-streaked edition of the Austin City Limits festival in 2009.
So there’s that. Alternately, for Austinites that don’t mind doing a little heavy lifting, old Christmas Trees can be taken to the Zilker Park polo fields on Saturdays and Sundays through Jan. 12 where the trees will be mulched on the spot. The resulting mulch will be returned to tree recyclers for private use on a first-come, first-serve basis. Austin Resource Recovery advises that, in addition to stripping the tree of decorations prior to arriving at the park, recyclers bring their own tools and containers for loading and transporting the mulch.
Most impressively, 2014 marks the 30th year that Zero Waste-aiming Austin has held a Christmas treecycling program, a program that the city estimates diverts a whopping 200,000 trees from overburdened Texas landfills each year.
How does your city or town handle old Christmas trees? Curbside collection? Collection centers? Both?
Related on MNN:
- Cutest way to recycle leftover Christmas trees? Elephants
- The ultimate guide to Christmas tree recycling
- France's festive fir-to-fertilizer program