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Recycle your Christmas tree

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Both real and artificial Christmas trees can have a second life if recycled. Doing so ensures you’re helping to save landfill space, reusing useful materials, and cutting your overall holiday footprint.

How to recycle your real Christmas tree

There are many ways to reuse tree fiber, both around your home and in your community. Today, there are over 4,000 tree recycling programs throughout the country, so finding one is easy. Check out Earth 911 later in the Christmas season (December 22 and onward) for tree recycling locations nationwide.

And if no formal tree recycling program exists in your community? There are many ways to recycle it yourself:

  • Make your own mulch: Your tree can be used as mulch in several ways. First, you can prune off the branches and use them to cover perennial plants throughout your property for added protection against winter weather. Then take the trunk and chip it into smaller pieces for use around tree and shrub bases.
  • Allow it to shelter: Let your tree become a winter refuge for animals and birds in your yard where it can shelter them from cold temperatures and strong winds. And by hanging fruit or smearing peanut butter on it, you’ll even provide nourishment for wildlife.
  • Donate it to environmental organizations: Some wildlife preservation groups make use of trees in their refuges and parks. Call a few in your area to see if they accept tree donations.

Get inspired with even more ideas for how to recycle Christmas trees this year.

How NOT to dispose of your real Christmas tree

  • Burning: As with all burned trash, burning your live tree (either at home or at your local incineration plant) will produce air pollution. It can also contribute to creosote build-up in your stovepipes and chimney flues.
  • Landfilling: It takes up space and, along with other organic materials, contributes to methane product (a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2).

Artificial tree reuse options

If you have an artificial tree, try to extend its life after which repurposing it may be your only option:

  • Reuse the branches: If your tree is beyond repair, consider using the bows to decorate your mantel, railings, and doorways instead of buying new garland.
  • Donate or give it away: If your tree is still functional, allow it to grace other spaces by donating it to a school, community center, church, or nonprofit organization. Alternatively, give it away at a garage sale.

Recycling your Christmas tree helps you go green because...

  • It keeps PVC—a highly toxic substance found in artificial trees—out of landfills and water supplies.
  • It reuses the organic material of real Christmas trees.

More people purchase and display artificial trees from year to year than those with real trees. In 2006, 36 million one-use real trees were purchased, but 46 million multi-use artificial trees were purchased, adding to the existing stocks of reusable trees.[1] Real trees are relatively easy to recycle, and because of strong public recycling programs, 93 percent of consumers in the US claim to recycle their trees in some fashion.[2] These programs reuse trees as mulch for hiking trails and public parks, for beachfront erosion prevention, for fish habitat, and to manage river sedimentation and shoreline stabilization.

Although artificial trees last longer than real trees,most are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a soft plastic used commonly in consumer products that poses severe environmental risks throughout its life cycle. PVC is not recyclable, nor is it biodegradable. When disposed of, lead, phthalates, and other toxic additives contained in the PVC can leach into the ground and drinking water supplies from landfills. Lead levels in the environment have increased by 1,000 times in the past few hundred years.[3]

Incineration of PVC products is also problematic since it produces dioxins and furans, which are among the most toxic environmental contaminants and are known carcinogens. PVC also contains health-threatening phthalates. In fact, 90 percent of phthalates in production are used to make PVC.[4]