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How to Dispose of Christmas Trees

How to Dispose of Christmas Trees

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Taking down your Christmas tree is one of the final activities of the annual festive holiday season. After all of the ornaments, lights, and tinsel are removed, you’ll need to figure out how to dispose of your tree.

While fresh trees are disposed of at the end of each Christmastide, an artificial tree is usually only thrown out when it becomes damaged or outdated. Either way, there are some good ways to safely dispose of your old Christmas tree.

Getting Your Christmas Tree Ready for Disposal

No matter the disposal method, you need to get your Christmas tree ready for disposal ahead of time.

Take Ornaments/Decorations Off

Remove all ornaments and lights. All ornaments, tinsel, strung popcorn, fresh orange slices, and other decorations must be removed entirely. Also, remove your tree stand and tree skirt, storing them safely for the following season.

Artificial Trees

Your artificial tree can be placed back in its box or storage container.

Live Trees

For removal of a live tree, place a blanket or tarp on the ground next to the tree. Lay the tree down and wrap it in the tarp or plastic tree bag. This will keep the needles from spreading everywhere on your way out the door and to your vehicle.

How to Dispose of Live Christmas Trees

Approximately 30 million real Christmas trees are sold each year in the United States. That makes for a lot of trees needing to be tossed at the end of the holiday season. There are several ways to dispose of your old tree:

An infographic detailing how to dispose of live Christmas trees
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1. Curbside Collection

Many communities offer curbside pickup for old Christmas trees. Some may allow whole trees. Others might require the tree to be broken down into smaller pieces, or only take smaller trees.

Some waste haulers offer a special collection day for old Christmas trees. Check with your hauler to find out if your tree should be placed out on your regular collection day or if you should wait for a particular collection day.

2. Drop Off Event

Your community may run a collection event to assist residents with tree disposal. These free drop off locations are usually stocked with large dumpsters to collect trees. You just drive up and toss your tree in the dumpster. In most cases, these are free events with no cost to residents with several drop off locations.

3. Compost Program

At some drop off collection events, there will be woodchippers set up and running to chop up trees on-site. These chipper make great temporary winter mulch. Then, take some chipped mulch home to use in your outdoor garden areas.

4. Landfill or Transfer Station

Most landfills will accept Christmas trees for disposal. You can either take it to the landfill directly or drop it off at a municipal waste transfer station for shipment to a local landfill. There may be a fee to drop off your tree at the dump, and they may not accept flocked trees. Call before heading out to be sure.

How to Dispose of Artificial Christmas Trees

Americans prefer artificial trees over live ones. About 84 percent of Christmas trees displayed in U.S. homes are artificial, and about 24 million new artificial trees are purchased each year. Artificial trees are cleaner, less expensive over the life of the tree, and easier to set up. In terms of disposal, they are much more convenient.

An infographic detailing how to dispose of artificial Christmas trees
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1. Donate Your Used Christmas Tree

National charities and thrift stores such as Boy Scout Troops and Goodwill accept used Christmas trees in good condition. If your artificial tree is pre-lit, but the lights are no longer working, you will probably have to dispose of your tree rather than donate.

2. Offer Your Tree for Free

If you are getting rid of your tree at the start of the holiday season and replacing it with a new one, you may be able to find another family or organization to pick up your old tree. Offer your tree up on Next Door, Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist. Schools, churches, and senior centers often are in search of free trees for their facilities.

3. Throw Out Your Old Tree

Artificial trees are considered general household waste. They can be placed out with your regular curbside trash. You can either break your tree down into small pieces to easily bag or wait for a bulk item collection day. They can also be placed in a 10-yard waste container for disposal.

Can Christmas Trees Be Recycled/Repurposed?

Most artificial Christmas trees cannot be recycled. Artificial tree recycling creates more problems than it solves. In general, you won't find a recycling program for artificial trees.

They often contain PVC plastic and other non-recyclable material. It is difficult to separate the components in a recycling facility. When these trees are disposed of in a landfill, it is estimated that they will take 500 years or more to decompose.

However, their overall impact on the environment may be less than that of a real tree. When comparing the impact of real versus artificial trees, a study by PE International concluded that an artificial tree used for 4.7 or more years has less of a carbon footprint than a real tree.

Another alternative is to repurpose your tree. You can use the wood for craft and decorating projects. The branches can be used in your yard as a bird sanctuary with a feeding area. These projects will give the tree new life

If your community doesn’t offer a compost program for your live tree, you can go in with some neighbors to rent a chipper. Run all the trees through and use the mulch under trees and shrubs.

Can You Burn Your Live Christmas Tree?

Old evergreen trees can be broken down and burned, but only if your fire is outdoors. Don’t burn your tree in an indoor fireplace or wood stove. The flammable turpentine oils in these trees burns very hot and produce creosote. This can build up on the inside of your chimney and can ignite in high heat, leading to a dangerous chimney fire.

Fires produced by when trees dry-out are also dangerous. Dry needles can catch fire very quickly and burn rapidly, producing lots of sparks. These sparks can spread into the room and catch furniture, draperies, or rugs on fire or escape through the top of the chimney, leading to a chimney or roof fire.

Finally, you can reduce your impact on the environment even more by purchasing a live tree. Live Christmas trees sold in pots are intended to be planted outdoors at the end of the Christmas season. These trees cost more upfront, but they can add beauty to your yard for years to come.

About Monica Mayhak

I am an expert content writer with a depth of experience in the waste management and dumpster industry, with over 25 years of experience writing about construction, home improvement, property management, and education topics. As lead research writer for Discount Dumpster, I have expanded my knowledge and understanding of waste management, construction, and environmental issues over the past several years.

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