Start a Christmas Tree Recycling Program

A Christmas tree recycling program is good for the environment as well as your peace of mind.

Chipping is the most common way to recycle trees. Seek a community organization that will mulch the tree for you. Image: National Christmas Tree Association

More than 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. This holiday season, don’t toss yours in the dumpster. Instead, consider organizing a recycling program in your community.

Although some community groups raise money by asking for a donation when they pick up trees for recycling, the big payoff of “treecycling” is keeping discarded trees from taking up landfill space.

There are more than 4,000 treecycling programs throughout the United States, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. If your community doesn’t have one, starting one isn’t as difficult as you might think, especially if you partner with local and state recycling programs and organizations such as Earth911.

The community volunteers who run the treecycling program at the New Hope Borough Recycling Committee in Pennsylvania spent about 20 hours each helping to organize and promote the activity. A landscape contractor donates time and equipment to pick up about 100 trees curbside and turn them into chips for mulch.

How to start a treecycle program

If you want to start a treecycling program in your area, begin by finding neighbors, small businesses, and members of local environmental groups who’d like to join your cause.

Starting a program without any community support or resources would be costly and time-consuming, and far more effort than most people would be willing to undertake, so secure support and partners first before embarking on this project.

Once you’ve located partners, get everyone together for a meeting to decide how you want to recycle your trees.

Evaluate recycling options

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, trees can be reused and recycled in many different ways, from being turned into mulch to being left whole and used as nesting habitats for herons and egrets.

The most common recycling method is chipping, which requires special equipment as well as a qualified operator with liability insurance. Renting the equipment and getting licensed can be time consuming and expensive, so partnering with a local department of parks and recreation, private landscaping business, or tree service company is your best bet if you want to mulch the trees.

An alternative to chipping is to donate whole Christmas trees to a variety of conservation efforts such as wildlife restoration and dune and wetland rebuilding.

Once you have a tree recycling partner, your biggest investment will be the time spent organizing volunteers and partners, which will take about 40 hours over the course of a few weeks.

Assign a volunteer to outline and execute a plan to promote your program starting at least a month in advance. Have the volunteer come up with marketing materials such as a press release and fliers explaining the program.

The volunteers doing major tasks such as promotion or working with a landscape company should expect to spend roughly 20 hours on the program. Volunteers who staff the drop off location could spend 10 to 15 hours doing shifts over the course of a week. The person in charge of the event could spend up to 40 hours overseeing the volunteers and troubleshooting.

Schedule tree collection

After you’ve decided how the trees will be recycled, you’ll need to determine how and when to collect them. According to Earth911, options include short-term drop off, long-term drop off, and curbside pick up.

If you elect to do drop off, you’ll need to find a location to store the trees until they’re recycled. If you do a pick-up program, you’ll need trucks and crews to collect the trees.

The best collection times range from the day after Christmas to the middle of January. If you are doing a short-term drop-off, the week after New Year’s is best. Be sure to put tree requirements on promotional materials so that trees are free of ornaments, lights, tinsel, and tree stands before they’re dropped off or collected.

Starting a Christmas tree recycling program in your community is a great way to begin the New Year a little greener. Just make sure that you have community support and recycling resources to help make your program a success.