By Rebecca Miller-Cripps

Free polystyrene collection planned in January

Tuolumne County Master Gardeners next month will hold polystyrene collection days to help rid Mother Lode residents of their leftover Christmas gift packaging.

Polystyrene collection will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 21 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 22 on Microtronics Way near Waste Management.

Clean food-grade and packaging-grade polystyrene will be sorted and recycled by Master Gardener volunteers.

Food containers should be placed in clear plastic bags.

Packing-grade polystyrene (used for shipping and wrapping items such as electronics) can be put into colored plastic bags, but all tape, tags, labels, etc., should be removed.

Packing “peanuts” will not be accepted but can be taken to the UPS Store in the Crossroads Shopping Center on Sanguinetti Road in Sonora.

Do your holiday decorations include a real cut Christmas tree? When it’s time to take it down, what do you do with it?

Central Sierra UCCE Master Gardeners have formulated several principles for foothills friendly “smart gardening” practices. Two of those principles are recycle and feed the soil. How can you follow these principles in disposing of your cut, green Christmas tree?


Master Gardeners and Tuolumne County’s Solid Waste Division encourage Tuolumne County residents to recycle their real Christmas trees. Residents may wish to chip their Christmas trees and use them at home as mulch or compost, or take advantage of one of the following opportunities to recycle Christmas trees in Tuolumne County. Readers in Calaveras County may wish to contact their local waste hauler or drop-off site for area-specific recycling opportunities. Real, non-flocked Christmas trees can be recycled for free in the following ways in Tuolumne County:

• Take the tree to the Earth Resource Facility (Free mulch! See below).

• Take the tree to the Groveland Transfer Station.

• Call your local franchise hauler to make arrangements to have it picked up. This is a limited service and certain conditions apply.

• Or better yet, chip your tree at home and use the mulch on your property

Remember, Christmas trees become a fire hazard when kept too long. Burning Christmas trees in the fireplace is extremely dangerous, and burning trees in the open air creates air pollution. Disposing of your Christmas tree by tossing it alongside a street or road is illegal.

Feeding the soil

Recycled trees have many beneficial uses. Christmas trees can be chipped, shredded and used as mulch for water conservation and weed control, erosion and/or dust control on hiking trails and bridle paths, additives in composting operations, and alternative fuel in co-generation or biomass plants.

Benefits of chipping and mulching your tree at home include:

• Conserving water in your landscape.

• Cooling soil temperatures to help prevent evaporation.

• Helping prevent the growth of weeds.

• Reducing dust on pathways.

• Adding nutrients to your compost pile.

Local collection companies, the Big Oak Flat/Groveland Transfer Station and the Cal Sierra/Waste Management Earth Resource Facility are accepting Christmas trees on a limited basis for free, under certain conditions. Christmas trees should not be mixed with other trash for disposal or recycling.

Drop-off locations in Tuolumne County

Please remove all decorations, tinsel, metal tree stands and nails. Also, some trees may have a metal supporting rod in the trunk that must be removed. Please do not bring any Christmas wrapping paper or trash.

• Big Oak Flat/Groveland Transfer Station, 10700 Merrell Road, will accept clean cut trees at no charge. The minimum gate fee will be charged for flocked trees of any kind. Drop off during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday only, through January.

• Cal Sierra/Waste Management Earth Resource Facility (ERF) at 14909 Camage Ave., off of Tuolumne Road near Standard, will accept clean, whole trees at no charge during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (closed noon to 1 p.m.) Tuesday through Saturday through January.

No flocked trees. All other green waste will be accepted at the regular charge.

Trees dropped off at the Earth Resource Facility will be ground into mulch and:

• Taken to a co-generation plant to be burned to generate electricity or;

• Used as an additive for compost at a local facility or;

• Used as a mulch at local farms and ranches or;

• Offered for sale at the Earth Resource Facility.

Real Christmas trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. Help reduce the waste stream by recycling or composting your Christmas trees.

For additional information, contact Tuolumne County Solid Waste Division at (209) 533-5588, or visit us at or your local waste hauler.

You can contact UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County at (209) 533-5912 or by email at

Rebecca Miller-Cripps is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County who chips her Christmas tree branches into mulch and recycles the trunk into firewood.