Ventura County Star
By Dec 14, 2014
"Flocking" is a strange-sounding
word for the subject of an ecological debate. Flocking as an environmental
issue does not represent flocks of birds, but rather is the term for a
snow-like decoration on a Christmas tree.
Flocking is sprayed onto the needles
of pines and firs, simulating trees in climates far colder than ours. According
to local Christmas tree sellers, flocking with "high intensity colors" is also
gaining popularity. People are increasingly having their trees sprayed with
hues such as red, purple, pink and yellow. Even black trees are gaining a
fraction of market share against traditional white flocking. Answers about the
environmental consequences of flocking depend on whom you ask, and the subject
seems fraught with misperceptions. Untangling the mystery of recycling flocked
Christmas trees sheds light on issues of public perception, producer
responsibility and recycling
For years, local public agencies and
private refuse haulers included in their holiday messages a warning not to
recycle flocked trees. Compost and mulch makers, such as Agromin, were
concerned about endangering their organic certification, and no one wanted to
risk contaminating loads of recycled trees with chemicals from a comparably few
undesirable trees. While tens of thousands of Christmas trees were regularly
recycled each year in Ventura County, hundreds of flocked trees were sent to
In accordance with instructions from
private refuse haulers and public recycling coordinators, homeowners cut
flocked trees into pieces and diligently placed them into trash carts instead
of yard waste recycling carts. Trees dropped off at official sites were also
segregated, with flocked trees sent to landfills and non-flocked ones given a
second life as mulch.
But last year, Dave Lidren, who
works for Agromin during most of the year and operates Big Wave Dave's
Christmas Tree Lots the rest of the year, convincingly presented the Christmas
tree flocking industry's case. Harrison Industries and Agromin, its affiliated
compost company, agreed to accept flocked trees this year, and some of the
public agencies managing areas where the Harrison companies haul refuse have
altered their messages.
What changed? According to Lidren
and his supplier, Mark "Tito" Anthony, nothing changed with the flocking
itself, only the dyes and adhesives may have changed. Anthony manufactures the
flocking material used by Lidren and claims it is 98 percent wood pulp.
"It’s like paper," he said. The
other 2 percent, he said, is adhesive, dye and nontoxic boron for flame
I followed up regarding the adhesive
and dye, and he referred me to supplier Greg Szuba, vice president of Peak
Szuba first said much of the
flocking is made from cotton-based pulp instead of paper, the adhesive is made
from corn starch (supplied by Ingredion Inc. in Los Angeles) and the dye is
made by Keystone Aniline Inc. in Chicago.
Rick Stover, senior technical sales representative
at Keystone, showed me safety sheets stating the dyes are nontoxic.
Nevertheless, Dave Green, who
manages organic certification for Agromin's main compost site near Oxnard,
remains on the lookout for flocked trees. He cited strict standards his company
must follow to retain its organic certification. Even the corn starch could be
a problem unless it can be certified free of genetically modified organisms, as
is the product used by Big Wave Dave's.
Last year, just a week before
Christmas, Green first heard news of the initiative to remove prohibitions on
recycling flocked trees. This year, Green is optimistic all the trees he
receives will be diverted from area landfills. He plans to segregate flocked
trees and make them into mulch or biofuel, rather than certified organic
The verdict: To ensure your tree is
as recyclable as possible, avoid flocking. If you do flock, keep your eye on
the environment and recycle your tree in your yard waste cart, rather than
disposing it in your refuse cart.
David Goldstein is an environmental
resource analyst for the county of Ventura. Representatives of government or
nonprofit agencies who want to submit articles on environmental topics for this
column should contact Goldstein at 658-4312 or email@example.com.
Labels: flocked Christmas trees, organic, recycling, recycling Christmas trees, Ventura County