Recycling Live Christmas Trees

recycle christmas treeIf you love the look and smell of a live, cut tree for Christmas, you will face the dilemma of what to do with that tree once the holiday is over.  If you live in a city with curbside trash pick-up you will probably be able to dispose of the tree as yard waste.  You may need to cut the tree down to a manageable size, or wait for a specific Christmas tree pick-up date.  Check with your local waste management company for details in your area.

If you live in a rural area, your Convenience Center should have an area set aside for collecting trees.  Again, there may be certain dates that they are accepted.

In either case, your tree will need to be stripped of all non-organic materials including ornaments, tinsel, string, wire and the base.  Artificial Christmas trees are almost always NOT recyclable: when you retire one you’ll put it in the trash headed for your landfill.

What Becomes of Your Christmas Tree?

What a community does to recycle Christmas trees depends on the community’s needs and geography, but a few of the ways they can serve another purpose is:

  • Run them through a chipper to become mulch
  • Sink them in a lake to serve as fish habitats3
  • Place them on beaches to prevent shore erosion4
  • Place them on mountain slopes to restore eroded areas.

If you prefer to dispose of the tree yourself, here are some suggestions:

  • Snip off the branches and use them to insulate and mulch your flowers or vegetables.  Plants such as blueberries and strawberries prefer an acidic soil, and pine needles do a great job of slowly acidifying soil.
  • Slice the trunk into ‘wheels’ that can be dug in on edge as a border for flower beds.
  • Slice the trunk thin to make coasters or trivets
  • Hang a small Christmas tree upside down from a large hardwood to create a bird sanctuary.
  • Snip off the branches and allow them to dry for use as tinder in your fire pit (never use with your indoor fireplace: the creosote they release can cause chimney fires).
  • If you have a pond, lay the trees parallel to the shore at the water line to reduce erosion.
  • If you are on a lake and like to fish, sinking the trees just off shore will draw the fish out from the depths.
  • And of course you can run it through a chipper to produce mulch or compost.

Are Cut Trees a Green Choice?

Some people advocate that buying an artificial tree that will last many years is more ecological than buying a cut tree every year and disposing of it.  But, cut trees are almost always sourced from Christmas tree farms where the trees are planted and cultivated specifically for use at Christmas time.  While they are growing, they contribute by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.  Because these are managed forests, when they are cut, new saplings are planted, continuing the cycle and preventing denuding of the land.

When the holiday is over, organic trees can be re-purposed in several ecologically beneficial ways.  Plastic trees end up in the landfill.

Of course if you are opposed to killing a tree at all, you can buy a potted tree with a root ball that can be planted after serving as your Christmas tree.  Just be sure you dig a large enough hole for it before the ground freezes and have some compost set aside to use in planting it.  It will also need to be watered until the roots get established well enough to provide for the trees’ needs.  Depending on your location, that may be a challenge in January and February.

What About You?

What do you prefer as a Christmas tree and why?  What do you do with it when you’re finished?


1)    Photo: via Bing
2)    Disposing of Your Tree In Tennessee
4)    MercuryNews


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