Someone asked me yesterday why it mattered if Christmas trees end up in landfills. What difference does it make? What harm does that cause and what is the alternative?
I thought this was a great and valid question! Especially since there are approximately 25-30 million Christmas trees cut down (and therefore requiring disposal) in the US alone!
The downfall of trees and really any organic matter going to landfill is this:
Organic matter (i.e. lawn clippings, leaves, food scraps, wood etc) does not compost in landfills. This is due to the lack of oxygen present during the breakdown process. Methane gas develops and is released due to the anaerobic (absence of oxygen) decomposition that takes place in a landfill. Alternatively, a compost (and Mother Nature) decomposes organic matter with oxygen. This does not produce methane emission. This is important because methane is 26 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. (It holds 26xs more heat in the atmosphere and therefore; is a key player in global warming.)
Organic matter thrown in landfills instead of sent back to the earth is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, the estimate that 16% of all methane emissions are from organics that can't decompose and compost properly in landfills.
So this is important shit and applies not only to the proper disposal of Christmas trees, but of all organic matter! But that’s for another day. :)
The upside of consciously disposing of our Christmas tree is this:
In repurposing/recycling our trees, we are returning them to the earth and respecting the natural process of nature. This has tremendous environmental benefits. As always, mother nature knows best and does best. When trees are recycled, they are often repurposed as mulch or compost. When we do this, we are contributing to a circular economy and finding purpose and value in our “waste”. In doing this, we also minimize the environmental implications of this holiday tradition by reducing greenhouse emissions, and providing benefit to our communities, soil, and environment.
When trees are turned into mulch, they can be distributed on public land or given to those who need it (such as gardeners for weed control!). Mulch can serve as a natural wildlife erosion control and as a organic nutrient supply. When Christmas trees are added to compost, they add valuable nitrogen that is essential for good soil capable of growing life.
How to consciously dispose of your tree:
The easiest way to dispose of your tree properly is to take advantage of county christmasy tree recycling programs! Every country will be different, but most major cities have recycling programs in place that are compost and/or mulch focused.
Some counties provide curbside recycling programs, and other provide drop off locations. So even if your county won’t pick it up, chances are you’ll be able to find a drop off location near you!
Regardless your recycling options, do not put your tree in a bag and ensure all of the ornaments, tensile, hooks, etc are removed. There may also be other requirements for your tree recycling program such as bundling your tree limbs, specific days etc- so again, check with your county requirements.
Alternatively, you can donate it to a conservation group in your area. Some conservation groups will take Christmas trees to use to prevent erosion around shorelines or to sink at the bottom lakes to use as artificial environments of fish! Sadly, there is no a resources for this (that I’m aware of), you’ll just have to do a little google research in your area.
If your county does not provide a recycling program, check with the Boy Scout chapter near you. They often have a recycling program and will come pick it up for a small fee of $5.
I really wish I could just give a blanket recommendation- “this is what to do!” But sadly, every county across the States is going to be different and it will require just a little google searching on your part! But I hope you are motivated to do so! If all 25+ million Christmas trees in the US were recycled and repurposed every year, this would have such a great impact.