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Feel greener disposing of Christmas tree properly

A Christmas tree lies parkway Deering Bay Drive Wednesday Dec. 28 2010 Tall Grass subdivisiNaperville. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

A Christmas tree lies on the parkway of Deering Bay Drive on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2010, in the Tall Grass subdivision in Naperville. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 1, 2013 6:12AM

These are the days when garbage bins typically groan a bit under the weight of Christmas excess, but there are ways to keep the strain down.

A variety of materials thrown away after the holiday can be discarded in more environmentally benign ways than an unceremonious one-way trip to the landfill. From composting trees to passing items along to have valuable metals inside them gleaned, the array of options merits a look.

That evergreen that’s beginning to shed lots of needles onto the living room floor might be a good place to start.

“Those are the biggies: the Christmas trees, and your real wreath, and the roping. Willowbrook Wildlife Center wants those,” said Kay McKeen, founder and executive director of School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education (SCARCE) in Glen Ellyn.

All lights, ornaments, tinsel, bows and wire need to removed before the green goods are sent off to serve as habitat for the wildlife center’s creatures.

“We need them delivered. We don’t do pickup,” Willowbrook employee Stephanie Cosby said.

The center is at 525 S. Park Blvd. in Glen Ellyn and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Curb —
or back yard

Even easier is dragging the tired old tree to the curb to await municipal pickup. Aurora’s tree collection starts the week of Jan. 7. Naperville residents can set their stripped-down trees and other evergreenery out with the rest of their garbage on their regular collection days during the weeks that begin Jan. 7 and Jan. 14. For those who live in unincorporated areas, the Naperville Township Road District will collect trees from the curb on Mondays through January. Wreaths will not be picked up and should be set out with the regular refuse.

McKeen had an additional suggestion, perhaps the greenest of them all: put the tree in the backyard, decorated again, only this time with pine cones that have been smeared with peanut butter. The natural ornaments will serve as wildlife food, and the frozen ground won’t be harmed by the trees, McKeen said.

Once the pine cones and peanut butter have been thoroughly nibbled, the trees will continue to provide shelter and a wintertime windbreak for animals.

Gift wrap is readily recyclable as well, she noted, even that which has touches of foil, but ribbon and decorations must be removed.


Electronics also can be recycled with ease — and have to be, as electronic goods have been banned from Illinois landfills since the beginning of the year. Kane County and the city of Aurora both have regular electronics recycling dates. Visit the city website at and the county website at for information.

Most varieties of string lights are recyclable — “There’s copper in there, so you want to make sure to recycle them,” McKeen said.

Last year, she said, the 28 sites in DuPage County took in nearly 45,000 pounds of holiday lights.

“That’s several garbage truckloads,” McKeen said, adding that more drop-off sites have been added this year.

McKeen also recommends removing the hooks and collars attached to ornaments when fragile ones break and must be tossed. The scrap metal can be kept in a bucket with other metallic odds and ends, she said, until there is enough to send off for processing.


Even better than recycling, which requires energy and resources, is the hand-me-down principle.

Goodwill can use unbroken ornaments that no longer find their way to the tree, McKeen said, and SCARCE redistributes toys, books and many other goods for reuse.

If the children are straightening up their toy closets to make room for new items, those old Monopoly games and jigsaw puzzles can be checked for missing parts and then packed up for donating.

“The kids need to do the puzzle one more time, to make sure all the pieces are there, and then tape the box closed on all four sides,” McKeen said.

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