How Christmas Tree Recycling Works

Christmas tree

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.

Tips for Recycling Your Tree

All real Christmas trees can be recycled, but there are a few things to keep in mind before dropping off your tree, Souza says.

Make sure your tree is free of all ornaments, string lights and tinsel, as these materials can damage wood chippers and cost your community big bucks.

If you plan to recycle your tree, you should also avoid flocking it (using fake, spray-on snow). This can also damage shredders and contaminate mulch with potentially toxic chemicals.

Looking to do more to spur Christmas tree recycling in your area? KTMB relies heavily on volunteers to keep its program up and running, and your local program likely does the same.

So, if you have a bit of free time to give back after the holidays, contact your local treecycling program to see if it needs volunteers for the season. A few hours can make a big difference!

Get smart about holiday waste: Stunning Reuses for Holiday Cards, Wrapping and Décor

Feature image couresty of Five Furlongs

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.