HOW SHOULD I DISPOSE OF MY CHRISTMAS TREE?

by Whit Gibbons

December 25, 2016

What are environmentally sound ways to discard my Christmas tree after the holiday? I responded to this question in a column more than a decade ago. The answer is worth repeating.

The question is inapplicable to the estimated 20 percent of the nation's households that have no Christmas tree in the home and is easy to answer for the multitude of families with an artificial tree that goes back into storage. But in the nearly 20 million homes with real Christmas trees, where should the trees go when their job is done? The question has several ecologically gratifying answers.

One thing about living organisms is that they die. Of course, a Christmas tree is functionally dead before you take it home, unless you happen to get a rooted one you can plant in the backyard after Christmas. (In my experience, these do not die until the next summer.) But at the end of yuletide, most people have to deal with a dead tree in the house. Although the 12 days of Christmas last through Jan. 5, some people say that if your Christmas tree is in the house past midnight Dec. 31, bad luck will haunt you in the coming year. You do not, however, have to be superstitious or a pagan to acknowledge that keeping in the house a tree that sheds highly flammable foliage, making it a potential tinderbox, might, in fact, be a bad idea.

So, you have a dead tree with needles littering the floor each time you jiggle it. Time to get the lights and ornaments off and the tree outside. Once the tree is lying on its side on the front porch, you can begin to consider your options.

One ecologically sound approach is to drag the tree into an out-of-sight spot in the yard. If such a discreet location is not possible, and the tree ends up in a spot where everyone can see it, tell your neighbors you are using it to create "wildlife habitat."

Dead trees do, in fact, create wildlife habitat for wood-dwelling insects and fungi, and occasionally for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, depending on the stage of decay, type of tree and its location. You are doing what you say, though the inhabitants of your created wildlife habitat may not be obvious.

A second rationale for leaving the tree in your yard is to use the dry branches for building fires in a fireplace. Old Christmas trees make great fire starters. They crackle loudly, burn brightly and are aromatic.

If your tree has been up for a week or more, you can probably start using the branches right away. Be advised that some organizations decry the idea of burning Christmas tree limbs in the fireplace because of safety concerns about creosote buildup. You may want to check into the potential hazards before taking my advice on how to start a fire.

Another approach is to throw the tree into your favorite fishing lake to create habitat for fish. A friend who does this every year claims he catches more fish in that spot. He does not mention whether his hooks are snagged by tiny branches well into summer. But whether better fishing is the result or not, I cannot see any environmental harm in discarding old Christmas trees in a river or lake.

One popular solution many communities use for Christmas tree disposal is to consolidate discarded ones into a giant heap of pine, fir and spruce in a designated area. The trees are then ground into mulch for landscaping around town.

Finally, a really simple option exists for people who live in a community where trash pickup includes removal of vegetation. Haul the tree to the curb and forget about it. Whichever of these options you choose, you can close out the holiday season with the assurance of having been environmentally responsible with regard to your Christmas tree. Happy holidays!

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