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The holiday has passed and your tree is starting to dry up. Here are some eco-friendly Christmas tree disposal methods, plus some inventive DIY solutions

Nicole Clausing  – November 28, 2018 | Updated December 21, 2018

If the holidays are about giving, then January is about ridding. There’s so much to purge. The torn wrapping paper. The novelty socks. The extra five pounds. And, of course, that needle-shedding Christmas tree that’s becoming more of a fire hazard every day.

What might seem like an obvious solution—burning it in the fireplace—turns out to be a bad idea. Fresher evergreens are full of sap and creosote, and produce a dirty, oily smoke. Drier trees tend to burn dangerously fast and hot, spitting sparky needles everywhere. Disposing your old tree in an outdoor bonfire might seem safer, but poses its own set of fire hazards.

So what to do with this holiday guest that has outstayed its welcome?

Standard Haul

Your community might have programs in place to help take it off your hands. Check with your local trash-hauling company; many will pick up your tree free of charge if you put it out on the curb on garbage day during the first two weeks of January. Sometimes the Boy Scouts or community organizations provide pick-up for a nominal fee. And in places where no one will take your tree, there is often a site where you can drop it yourself for little or no charge—Home Depot locations sometimes provide this service. In any case, make sure the ornaments, tinsel, lights, and stand have been removed before Old Balsam leaves the house.

Thinking Outside the (Gift) Box

Some communities dispose of trees in more creative ways. In the Portland area, for example, a group called Trout Unlimited collects trees at city drop-off points. Then, in an operation dubbed Christmas for Coho, volunteers drop trees in the Necanicum River, creating both a food source and a protective environment for baby salmon. Other communities use dead evergreens to help shore up eroding beaches and riverbanks. For instance, the city of San Diego has a program where trees are turned into mulch and wood chips, which are then provided to the community free of charge. And some zoos collect pines for use in animal enrichment programs. Keep your eyes and ears open for similar opportunities where you live.

You might find eco-friendly ways to use the spent tree in your own backyard. You can hang fruit, suet, and seed socks from it and turn it into a huge bird feeder, for example. Strip boughs from it and place them over raised beds to provide plants with insulation and protection from rain and snow. Use the needles for groundcover. Rent a wood chipper and turn the trunk into mulch. Stick branches in the ground that your vining plants can use as a climbing trellis next spring. And if you’re really out of inspiration, you can always cut the tree into sections and dispose of it with your other biodegradable waste.

Christmas 365

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If the idea of tearing your onetime holiday centerpiece limb from limb and leaving it in the backyard is a little unsettling, there are creative ways to keep the tree, or at least parts of it, at home with you. The needles, for example, can be used in sachets, reminding you of Christmas every time you open your sweater drawer. The trunk can be cut into disks good for any number of craft projects. Bigger pieces make good trivets, medium varnished ones become coasters, and small thin circles make great surfaces for decorating. You can let the kids paint some to make ornaments for next year, taking it full-circle and artfully transforming that perishable symbol of the holidays from a potential fire hazard into the gift that keeps on giving.