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Best Methods for Christmas Tree Recycling

Updated Dec 26, 2022

Updated Dec 26, 2022

Home > Lawn > Best Methods for Christmas Tree Recycling

Many neighborhoods and waste disposal companies allow homeowners to leave their Christmas trees next to or inside their blue bins for recycling. According to the Real Christmas Tree Association (RCTA), over 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs are active nationwide. However, not all homeowners have access to one of these programs, and occasionally Christmas trees wind up in landfills. Any homeowner without access to a local tree recycling program may need to get more creative with their tree disposal. 

For homeowners without a recycling program and those DIY-minded folks who would rather repurpose their trees, we created this comprehensive guide to the best Christmas tree recycling methods.  

How To Prep Your Christmas Tree for Recycling

Before looking at recycling methods, you must follow a few preparatory steps. Thankfully, none of these are particularly difficult, but they’re crucial for a tree to be recycled by a local program or reused DIY style. 

Don’t Use Flocking Spray 

Flocking spray or fake snow is a white, powdery spray-on material typically used for decorative purposes. When used on a Christmas tree, it gives it a naturally snowy appearance. However, while aesthetically pleasing, trees coated in flocking spray are nonrecyclable due to the plastics and contaminating chemicals inside the spray. As a result, most recycling programs will not take flocked trees. DIY recycling is also not recommended, as the chemicals inside the spray render the tree unusable as green waste. If you plan on recycling your tree in general, you’ll want to avoid flocking spray.  

Remove All Decorations

As the holidays close, homeowners will have to remove the decorations from their trees no matter what. But if you plan on recycling, you’ll want to pay special attention. The small metal hooks, plastic bags, tinsel, Christmas lights, tree stands, and twine ties used in hanging ornaments can disrupt the recycling process and must all be removed. When recycling your tree, take extra time to look over it, removing all decorations and item hangers. 

Cut Down to Size

If you have a very large tree (think anything 7 feet or taller), you’ll likely need to cut it down. Most recycling programs have strict size restrictions, which disallow any tree 7 feet or taller. Even if you want to recycle a tree, breaking a tall tree into more manageable sizes will make the job much easier. 

Best Ways To Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Christmas tree in a recycling bin outside
Image Source: Canva

Now that your tree is ready, let’s look at all the best recycling options available. 

Mulch It 

Mulching is the most common option for recycling a tree. Most local and municipal programs turn Christmas trees into mulch or fertilizer. Check with your local public works agencies and waste management companies to learn about these programs and organizations. Most programs have specific dates and times to place your tree for curbside pickup. All you have to do is sit your tree curbside on pickup day, and your waste hauler will collect and remove it. Some curbside collection programs have strict tree size rules, so check with your waste management company beforehand.

Some locations allow you to bring your trees to a drop-off location if you miss the scheduled collection day. Once mulched, these trees will be sold at a discounted price, donated to charity, or, most often, used in a local governmental landscaping project. This way, Christmas trees help the local community and further zero-waste initiatives.

However, you don’t need to use a municipal program to turn your trees into mulch. Pine needles and small branches make excellent mulch by themselves, and you can strip them off right at home. You can also turn larger limbs and trunks into mulch, but doing so will require a wood chipper. Remember that pine tree mulch needs to sit and age before use, typically for at least one year.  

Put It on the Beach 

Some communities and regions will use recycled Christmas trees as an erosion barrier for coasts and shorelines. While this option is only available for homeowners in coastal areas, this can be a great way to get rid of your Christmas tree while preserving local wildlife and public spaces. 

Put It in a Pond

Sunken trees provide great fish-feeding grounds and habitats for other water-dwelling critters. You can help these local watering holes by donating your used Christmas tree. Before considering this option, you should check your local ordinances to ensure that it’s allowed, as some regions forbid the cultivation or alteration of any local habitat or waterway. If you have the all clear, you’re free to add your Christmas tree to a watering hole on your property, a local pond, or a lake. 

To properly sink a Christmas tree, you’ll need to tie concrete cinder building blocks to its top, center, and trunk to weigh it down. We recommend using a stainless steel wire, as it won’t easily rust or degrade like rope or nylon cord. 

Rewild It 

If you’re active in the online eco-space, you might have heard the term “rewilding.” If not, this is a recent trend in which homeowners make their backyard space more welcoming to wild creatures. Rewilding trends include adding bird and squirrel boxes, encouraging pollinators through local flora, and creating hedgehog holes that allow smaller critters safe passage. Christmas trees make an excellent addition to any rewilded backyard, as they function as a habitat and feeding location for birds, numerous beneficial insect species, and small mammals. 

Compost It

One of the best uses for a holiday tree is turning it into compost. Once you strip the tree of all decorations, break it up into small, manageable pieces. Then, add it to your compost bin or yard waste container for composting. Tree limbs and pine tree needles make for excellent composting materials, alongside other solid waste from your home and garden. 

Use It for Kindling and Firewood

The most simple and old-fashioned way to recycle a Christmas tree is to turn it into firewood. Conifer trees make for excellent firewood and kindling; once dry, their saps and resins are highly combustible. That being said, most recommend only using pinewood as outdoor firewood, as it burns very hot and can produce larger amounts of smoke. However, the needles, small branches, and twigs of pine trees are excellent kindling for indoor and outdoor fires. Using Christmas trees for firewood is also a good economical option, as it can help reduce electricity bills in the winter.

Final Thoughts on a Recycled Christmas Tree

recycled Christmas trees on a beach
Image Source: Canva

While the convenience of an artificial tree is tempting, a live Christmas tree is a fun, family-friendly holiday tradition that is eco-friendly and renewable. Thankfully, many municipalities have programs that allow homeowners to recycle their used living trees. There are even third-party, nonprofit recycling centers that will take in Christmas trees. There are also plenty of other ways homeowners can recycle their Christmas trees at home. As long as you properly remove all your tree’s ornaments and avoid the use of flocking sprays, you can turn your tree into a bird sanctuary, fish habitat, mulch, firewood, or even an erosion barrier.

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