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Christmas Trees Don’t Belong in Trash Cans

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

by Max Allen

When dried brown needles start to drop across the floor with the sharp scent of pine disappearing, it marks the holidays coming to a close and the time to decide what becomes of the tree. Sending it to a landfill is not the most environmentally friendly thing to do, and if you celebrate the holidays with a real tree, it probably won’t fit in a trashcan. Lucky for you, there are easier and more creative options to sustainably dispose of holiday trees by reusing, reducing, or recycling!

You’ve already made the right choice for the environment with a live holiday tree which is a sustainable option that supports forests and local economies. An article from the New York Times sums up their benefits by saying, “[A]s they grow, [the trees are] cleaning the air and providing watersheds and habitats for wildlife.” These trees are not cut from, and therefore preserve, wild forests; they also flourish on rolling hills that often can’t be utilized for other greenery. In a similar fashion to crops, they are grown with the purpose of eventually being cut down. As soon as they are, more holiday trees will quickly be planted in their place for the following season, giving temporary benefits in a long-term cycle. Overall, living trees are far better for our earth than factory-manufactured plastic trees, which are ultimately discarded and take centuries to decompose due to the environmentally harmful materials they are made of and resources used to manufacture those materials.

After the holidays are over, you can maintain the holiday spirit by giving back to the ecosystem and reusing your tree and by turning it into a home or enrichment for local wildlife. Check with your community to see if there is a pond or lake that you can place and sink the holiday tree in. This has the ability to create a small reef and provide food, a nesting ground, and shelter for fish. Birds in your area can also benefit from a reused holiday tree if placed in a backyard and hung with edible, wildlife-safe decorations such as 100% natural popcorn, apples, grapes, nuts, or pinecones rolled in birdseed and peanut butter.

To use your holiday tree in a more practical way, it can be reduced to wood chips and mulch for a yard or garden. Mulch decreases erosion and increases moisture in the soil so greenery can flourish long after seasonal decorations are taken down. This is a great method to put to action if you own a woodcutter or a chipper. The tree can be reduced further by adding some parts to a compost bin. If you have one, filling the bin with no more than 10% from holiday tree waste, specifically pine or fir, is recommended, as these tree needles can take a long time to decompose.

It is important to note that chopping up holiday trees or using dry needles in fires is not a safe or effective way to help the environment. Burning holiday trees puts not only your home but those who live within it at risk. The wood from pine, spruce, and fir trees can produce an unsafe amount of creosote, a chemical, when set aflame. A buildup of creosote in fireplaces and chimneys combined with dry pine needles is likely to result in an intense, hard-to-control fire that will produce large amounts of smoke and soot. Be careful!

Arguably the easiest option, and what you may already be doing, is to let the City of San Diego do the work! Simply drop off the tree where it will be sustainably used by the city as mulch and wood chips or recycled by using the following flyer to find which location is closest to you (Christmas Tree Recycling Program). In some neighborhoods, Home Depot will also recycle holiday trees. In order to be able to drop off at either location, you should embrace the native, sunny weather of San Diego and don’t spray flocking (fake snow) on the tree, as this will make it no longer recyclable. Also, check twice that all tinsel, ornaments, or any other decorations are no longer hanging before leaving the holiday tree in safe and environmentally friendly hands.

Enter this holiday season with the intention of giving back to the earth knowing when the time comes for the tree to go it is not landfill-bound. Instead, your options are to reuse, reduce, or recycle!

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