Recycle, Don't Dump, Your Christmas Tree

There are plenty of uses for recycled Christmas trees, so make sure your fir avoids the landfill.

Posted by Steve Graham | Jan 06, 2011
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Photo: e_pics on Flickr.According to the U.S. EPA, an estimated 93 percent of the 33 million real Christmas trees sold in North America each year get recycled. Instead of being buried in landfills, recycled Christmas trees can become mulch, help increase wetlands and support our wildlife habitat. So how do you make sure you are not part of the negligent non-recycling 7 percent of the population and how do you prepare your tree for recycling?

Recycling Your Tree

You can start by finding a Christmas tree recycling program in your area with[o1] .‘s handy list. Then you’ll want to check up on the program and make sure to follow its rules.  Remember the following:

• Just because your waste company offers curbside recycling and curbside tree pickup doesn’t necessarily mean it offers curbside tree recycling. So you’ll want to find out where your tree is going to end up.

• Most programs end sometime in January, so don’t wait too long to recycle your tree. Curbside tree pickup often requires extra trucks and yard waste drop-off sites don’t get much other business in the winter. As a result they are typically staffed for a limited time only.

• Check the rules for tree prep. Generally you will need to dispose of the tree in the same condition you found it: ornament, light and tinsel free. And if you need another reason to convince someone not to “flock” your tree with white fake snow, just keep in mind that most recycling programs don’t accept flocked trees.

• You’ll want to stay on your garbage collector’s nice list. Since the trash removal company is most likely using different trucks and crews for the Christmas tree removal you don’t want it blocking the rest of your trash or recycling bins. You might also want to consider cutting large trees in half to make it easier for them to be hauled away.

• Another option is to recycle your Christmas tree yourself. You can chop the tree into mulch or firewood, assuming you have an energy-efficient wood-burning stove or fireplace (and heed local wood-burning restrictions). You can also use it as wood chips in a playground, and it’s a great source of oxygen for fish in a backyard pond.

Other Christmas Tree Uses

The most common uses for recycled Christmas trees are:

• Trees are chipped into mulch and used as protective groundcover. The city of Denver mulches the Christmas trees they collect and  offer it to its residents for their own use through its Treecycle program. In other areas, the mulch is primarily used in public parks.

• Another solution is to chop trees into varying size pieces for walkways, playground surfaces and other areas.

• In coastal areas, recycled Christmas trees are important for their role in erosion control and shoreline maintenance and restoration. Christmas tree recycling is   being encouraged by the State Department of Natural Resources as being crucial in the restoration of the quickly depleting wetlands of Southern Louisiana, where the  depletion contributed to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The National Christmas Tree Association also lists the following more unusual uses for recycling your used Christmas tree:

• The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department deposits their Christmas trees in lakes around the state to restore fish habitats.

• A Wisconsin cardboard manufacturer uses recycled Christmas trees as boiler fuel.

• In Vermont, trees are burned as biomass and then the energy gets converted into home electricity.

And in terms of a direct benefit of Christmas tree recycling with a direct benefit for people everywhere, Environment Wire Canada informs that Pharmaceutical companies in Ontario extract acid from the needles of recycled Christmas trees for flu vaccines.

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