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6 Ways to Safely Dispose of Your Christmas Tree

Close up of a Christmas tree branches with white lights
There are many eco-friendly ways to dispose of your Christmas tree.

Christmas is over, the turkey is all gone, and you’re rested from a few days watching football with the family. Now it’s time to get the holiday décor down and packed away until next year. When it comes to getting rid of your Christmas tree, however, there are a few options for safe disposal (and a few mistakes to avoid).

 

Tree Takedown Tips:

  • Remove all ornaments and lights, including hooks.
  • Remove the tree stand.
  • Don’t drop off artificial trees or painted trees (or snow covered “flocked” trees) at recycling centers.
  • Don’t wrap the tree in a plastic trash bag when dropping off (try an old bed sheet or a tarp or old shower curtain to protect your carpet and car or roof from scratches and needles).

Now, decide where to take your tree!

 

Curbside Pickup

Your city may offer special collection services for a week or two as a part of your regular trash pickup — but usually for only a short window in early January. Check with your local streets and sanitation department to see when you should leave your tree out, and how they prefer you package it. (Some municipalities may not want you to leave a tree in a plastic disposal bag, or with any tinsel remnants, as they’re going to put the trees with yard waste in the landfill.)

Drop Off for Recycling

Some cities offer a location where you can drop off your tree so they can recycle them for you. Some might be ground up and used for mulch on city property, or simply collected easily for transportation to the yard waste areas in the landfill to break down over time. In fact, most trees go out this way, as an easily recycled commodity. Some cities even let residents come back for free mulch after they’ve chipped trees. Search Earth 911’s directory to find recycling options near you — there might be one closer than you think!

Make Some Mulch

You can grind up your own tree if you have (or can borrow or rent) a wood chipper. You can break down your tree and use the chips to insulate plants throughout the winter. Just be careful when using potentially dangerous machinery like a wood chipper.

If you want to cut off tree branches first, you can use those to cover sensitive plants in your garden, like roses or delicate perennials. The rest of the chipped trunk can go in flowerbeds or under bushes or even around the base of trees.

Check with Nature Groups

Some non-profits use old Christmas trees in lakes and even riverbanks to make erosion barriers or fish habitats. Come spring, your tree could foster schools of fish that you can enjoy catching all summer long. These fish cribs also grow lots of food for fish, like algae and plankton. You can check with local resources, including National Forests, river restoration groups, trail associations, and local parks to see who might have recycling plans near you.

Add to Your Brush Pile

A Christmas tree makes a perfect addition to a brush pile that you plan on burning safely on a cold winter’s day. The pine sap in evergreens burns easily and hotly. It isn’t a good idea to burn your tree inside in the fireplace. “The sap is flammable and creosote build-up can pose as a threat when used indoors,” notes the Arbor Day Foundation. “Evergreens tend to burn hot and fast, making them ideal for bonfires.”

But outside, on a low-wind day with plenty of attention, you can burn your tree on a brush pile. Check with local laws on open fires (some cities won’t let you burn brush in city limits, or in certain conditions like especially windy or dry weather).

Make a Bird Habitat

Want the brush for the birds? Christmas trees, even without their needles and dried to a crisp, make for great homes for small birds looking for safe spaces to hide from predators. If you like feeding birds in winter, your tree can also make a great space for them to relax where hungry hawks and cats can’t easily sneak up on them. You can even get them started by adding some DIY bird feeder ornaments to the branches.

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