Dreaming of a green Christmas

What happens to your recycled Christmas trees? Read our 2017 article after we visited the processor where they go to be composted

Bristol Waste collected about 170 tonnes of Christmas trees in January 2016. The trees are processed to fertilise crops such as spring barley that’s used for malting in the drinks industry. Cheers to that!

Trees are processed locally by Phoenix Green Solutions near Yate
Photo: Bristol Waste

You can leave your Christmas trees out on the kerbside for recycling on the day your black bin is collected - check your calendar for tree symbol. We do occasionally get artificial trees left out, so please only the ‘real’ ones.

The trees we collect are taken to a processor, Phoenix Green Solutions, near Yate. Here they are turned into compost, which is then used to grow crops such as wheat, barley, oilseed rape and forage maize. 


Compost is like caviar to earthworms. They adore it and become more active, in turn improving soil quality, leaving worm casts and creating airways and waterways through the soil

Christmas trees in, compost out

The process takes 8-10 weeks from when the articulated lorries come in piled high with trees to when the tractors and trailers come out with PAS100 standard compost.

Operational manager Simon Mitchell, is also an experienced farmer and understands the value of good-quality compost. 

“Compost is like caviar to earthworms. They adore it and become more active, in turn improving soil quality, leaving worm casts and creating airways and waterways through the soil.”

Simon says that Christmas trees are a little more acidic than other organic matter, but they can be blended with garden waste. The trunks need to be shredded well “to give a good surface area for the microbes and fungi to work”.

The process

The trees and other garden waste arrive in what Simon calls the “quarantine area”. There everything is hand-checked to look for non-recyclables - any metals and stones go off for recycling. Later on, any larger bits of wood are pulled out by hand to be used as biomass for boilers.

Photo: Bristol Waste

The trees are then shredded into a heap and Simon and his team check the moisture is correct. Next it all goes to a storage system called EcoPOD, where the active composting is done. 

Air is pumped through a perforated pipe in the bottom of large bags holding the garden waste, and the temperature is held at about 68C to sanitise it. 

The EcoPOD system using forced aeration
Photo: Bristol Waste

The compost is left for eight weeks in the bags and then it has a further two weeks maturation out of the bags, which improves the quality a bit more.

A mature system

“Farmers know that the older compost is, the better it is. There’s not many farmers that would spread it straightaway. They like to stack it up next to the field and then wait for a weather window.”

The maturation process
Photo: Bristol Waste

Piles of compost field-side are a common view in the farms around the processing site. On a frosty, wintery day they elegantly complement the rolling landscape. 

Compost is a precious resource - it vastly improves the quality of heavy clay soils, making them better to work and better at draining. 

Compost ready for use at Richard and James Smith’s farm, near Yate
Photo: Bristol Waste

Increasingly people are choosing to keep their Christmas trees in pots and bring them in each year. But if that’s not convenient for you, make sure to keep recycling your trees for compost.