tree.jpgChristmas trees in San Francisco will be used as biofuel as part of the city’s 25th annual “Treecycling” program, which officials celebrated with a “chipping of the trees” event outside City Hall Tuesday.

Recology SF will collect Christmas trees from residents beginning in January in an effort to divert the fir trees from Bay Area landfills.

The company will pick up trees curbside, turn them into wood chips and sell the chips to energy-generating facilities in Tracy and Woodland to be used as biomass, said Bob Besso, Recology’s waste reduction and recycling manager.

The private plants for cogeneration buy the wood chips from Recology each year and while the wood chips have a low value, around $10 per bone-dry ton, the profit goes to offset Recology’s cost of collection, Besso said.

About 514 tons of Christmas trees were collected last year in San Francisco and Recology does not hope to pick up more trees this year, Besso said.

The company will pick up trees between Jan. 2-6 and Jan. 9-13 and requires all trees to be free of decorations and manmade materials. Trees should be placed at the curb next to a resident’s trash cart before 6 a.m. on their regularly scheduled pickup day.

Kevin Danaher, outreach and communication program manager with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said that fir trees have a high acid content and should not be mixed with regular compost.

Turning the trees into wood chips “is the best use, but this also puts a lot of pollutants in the air,” Danaher said.

Although the biofuel creates carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, allowing the fir trees to decompose produces methane and 21 times the amount of gases, he said.

While carbon dioxide created by the biofuel facilities is better for the air than the methane the trees would otherwise produce in landfills, it is not the most sustainable choice, Danaher said.

Besso said the best option for the environment and air quality next year is for San Francisco residents to rent native trees from organizations such as Friends of the Urban Forest and then return the trees to be planted in the city after the holiday season.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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