How Christmas Tree Recycling Works

Photo: Flickr/sdminor81

Your Christmas tree could become mulch for community parks. Photo: Flickr/sdminor81

Christmas tree recycling, also known as treecycling, is a simple way to have a big impact after the holidays have come and gone, and a growing number of communities are offering seasonal programs to make it easy to extend your tree's useful life.

Recycled trees are typically used for mulch in community parks, as well as erosion prevention, weed abatement and habitat creation, but how do these programs work?

Earth911 sat down with Jaime Souza of Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful (KTMB), which heads up a Christmas tree recycling program in Reno, Nev., and surrounding communities, to find out how they're putting tossed trees to good use.

How Tree Recycling Works

KTMB's Christmas tree recycling program runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 12 at three drop-off points throughout the region.

Located at community parks, these drop-off sites are evenly spread out and conveniently accessible for most residents, which draws high participation rates. The organization processed an impressive 10,000 trees for recycling last year.

At each collection point, volunteers work alongside parks department employees to collect and sort discarded trees. From there, the trees are run through an industrial chipper and transformed into mulch.

Most of the mulch is used in local parks and playgrounds, as well as erosion-prevention and weed-abatement projects throughout the community, but residents can also pick up free mulch from KTMB after the program is over — providing additional incentive to bring trees out for the program, Souza says.

"The most important thing I feel about this program is that it keeps trees out of the landfill," she tells Earth911. "We try to make it as convenient as possible for community members to recycle their Christmas trees in a responsible way."

Compared with artificial trees, real Christmas trees are a renewable resource, with 98 percent of them being grown and harvested each year as a crop would be. They are carbon neutral and create organic, biodegradable waste, making them the more environmentally friendly choice for Christmas greenery.

That said, it is still important to keep real trees out of landfills, where they biodegrade slowly due to low oxygen levels.

Souza notes that landfills in Washoe County, which includes the Reno-Sparks metro area, receive a staggering 5,000 pounds of waste every day during the winter months (the equivalent of about 700 fully grown elephants), meaning tree recycling plays an important role in keeping local landfills empty.

Next page: Tips for Recycling Your Tree

Mary Mazzoni

Based in the Phoenix metro area, Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.