What to do with your old Christmas tree
Dec 30, 2013

The Christmas holiday is almost over and it’s nearly time to take down the tree. According to Environmental News Network, 30 million of the 50 million Christmas trees purchased in the U.S. end up in landfills.

Artificial Trees usually can’t be recycled.

If you are using an artificial tree, chances are you’re going to use it over and over again for many years. But what do you do if your artificial tree has lost its appeal and you would like to replace it with a new one? Well, if it’s still in good condition, consider donating it to a local church, school, hospital, elderly care facility, public library, homeless shelter or a neighbor. Give it away on a site such as Craigslist. Whatever you do, try anything you can to keep the tree from being thrown away at the curb.

Unfortunately, most artificial trees aren’t recyclable and will end up in the landfill where they will remain for hundreds of years.

What to do with your old Christmas tree, recycling options

Natural tree recycling options

If you have a natural tree, there are usually more recycling options available to you. In general, don’t just set your real tree on the curb for pickup with the rest of your trash.

Every community handles used Christmas trees differently. Be sure to contact your town hall or local department of public works for information about Christmas tree recycling options available to you and what their requirements are.

Make sure you remove all of the lighting, tinsel and decorations from the tree before setting it outside for pick-up or bringing it to a recycling center. Most recycling centers accept up to two trees at no-cost.

There may be a local non-profit such as Boy Scouts that offer tree pickup service for a small donation.

Your community might have a mulching program where they shred trees to create mulch which can be used in gardens. If you have access to a wood chipper, you can make mulch yourself. Or, you could trim the tree down to set in the compost pile.

Used natural trees are an amazing resource

There are many uses for used natural Christmas trees beyond gardening and landscaping. For example, strategically placed trees are used to restore wildlife habitats and create soil erosion barriers. You can use them in your own yard to provide food and shelter for wild birds. They’re also used to restore dunes, coastlines and fishing habitats. Shredded trees can also be used as a renewable boiler fuel to produce electricity. Again, be sure to contact your town hall or local department of public works to see which recycling/reuse programs are available in your area.

Can I burn a used natural Christmas tree in my fireplace or wood stove?

No way! Don’t put any part of a Christmas tree into the fireplace, not even for kindling. Even a few pine branches thrown into a fire present a huge fire safety risk. The needles flare instantly and they produce a lot of sparks that can easily fly across a room or make their way up the chimney, settle on your roof and set your shingles ablaze. The pitch in the wood causes the fire to burn much hotter and can damage the firebox and your chimney. As the pitch burns, it also produces a lot of smoke. The residual build-up in the chimney can cause a chimney fire.

Consider a balled and burlapped tree for next year

Live Christmas trees with the roots left intact can be planted after they have been used, but this requires more planning, preparation and heavy lifting. You’ll need to time everything just right and take measures to make sure that the tree isn’t indoors too long. A ball and burlap tree can remain indoors for about 7 to 10 days. Be sure it’s located near a window.

Dig a planting hole outside for the tree before the ground freezes. Protect the excavated soil with a tarp and fill the hole temporarily with mulch. Make sure the hole is twice as large as the tree’s root ball.

Once Christmas is over, be sure to allow the tree to adjust to the cold by keeping it in a garage or shed for a few days. Pick a mild-weather day to plant. Place the tree into the hole you prepared and backfill with the excavated soil. Be sure to water and mulch.

Do you have any other ways of reusing or recycling your Christmas tree? We’d love to hear about it! Be sure to comment.

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