What to do with old Christmas trees

According to the National Christmas Tree Association,  between 25 million and 30 million real  Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. If the average height of a Christmas tree is 7 feet, that means that in the next month, 37,000 miles of Christmas trees will be disposed of in one way or another. The Earth is only 24,900 miles around at the Equator. To put it lightly, that’s a lot of trees!

Most municipalities in the U.S. offer some kind of recycling program for dried out Christmas trees, and the variety of uses for those tired old trees is truly astonishing. Probably the most common way trees are recycled is via the wood chipper, producing mulch that is then distributed to residents or used in city projects (this is what the City of Fort Collins and Larimer County do). Here’s a few other neat ways that Christmas trees are reincarnated:

  • Take your tree out back and let it dry out. The needles make a great mulch, and can help acidify our alkaline Colorado soil. Use the wood in your fireplace. If you don’t have a fireplace, ask around. I bet you know someone who would be happy to have some free firewood.
  • Stake your tree upright in the yard and string it up with popcorn or other bird treats for a wonderful winter wildlife feeder.
  • On beaches where sand erosion is a serious environmental problem, old Christmas trees are used along with short sections of fence to create windbreaks, allowing the natural rebuilding of sand dunes, a vital ecosystem for many delicate species of plants and animals. This is especially useful in areas damaged by hurricanes, such as the Gulf Coast in Alabama following Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
  • Old Christmas trees are used in a number of different ways to create habitats for animals. They are  sunk in the shallow waters of lakes and ponds to provide nursery habitat for young fish. Under the guidance of the Division of Wildlife, they can be bundled together and placed in forest areas where they provide cover for small animals like birds, rabbits, ground squirrels, and the like.
  • Old Christmas trees are used for fuel in biomass heating systems and power generators.

There are probably many other creative ways to recycle Christmas trees. If you have a great idea, we’d love to hear about it! If you just want to drop your tree of somewhere and be done with it, The City of Fort Collins and Larimer County are offering free tree recycling until January 20, 2020. Here’s what to do:

  • Remove all decorations, including lights, wire, hooks, ornaments, tinsel and fake snow.
  • Take your tree to one of the following free drop-off locations:
    • Edora Park, 1420 E. Stuart St. (Tennis court parking lot)
    • Rolland Moore Park, 2201 S. Shields St. (Southeast corner of the parking lot)
    • Fort Collins Streets Facility, 625 Ninth St. (Southwest corner of Vine Drive and Lemay Avenue)
    • Fossil Creek Park, 5821 S. Lemay Ave. (enter from Lemay Avenue)
    • Wellington Recycling Drop-Off Site, Town Garage (Corner of Sixth Street and Grant Avenue)
    • Larimer County Landfill, 5887 S. Taft Hill Road (Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-4 p.m.)
  • All free tree recycling ends on January 20, 2020, so don’t wait. Besides, the longer you wait, the more dried needles you’ll have to dig out of your carpet.

Originally published on December 26th, 2015. Updated on January 6th, 2020.