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Recycle that Christmas Tree—The Right Way

There are numerous ways to recycle your live Christmas tree, but don’t just chuck it in one of our reservoirs! There’s a right way and a wrong way to dispose of it.

Those who enjoy the beauty and the fragrance of a live pine, cedar, fir or spruce tree for Christmas are left with a dilemma after the holidays: what to do with it? Before you drag it to the curb, check out opportunities in your area for recycling it. You’ll be giving the Earth a last gift of the Christmas season.

“In recent years people have heard that Christmas trees have been placed in lakes to create fish habitat,” says Josh Burnette, TVA Natural Resources specialist. “So they may think they are being helpful by tossing the tree into a lake. But don’t do it! There’s a science behind creating proper fish habitat.”

Leave it to the Professionals

State agencies try to obtain trees each year so they can use them as fish habitat, says Burnette, but these agencies have a process in which they bundle trees and place them in complex underwater structures. Algae grow on the sunken trees, creating multiple benefits for fish. Invertebrates eat the algae and flourish, becoming food for small fish which also use the structures for shelter. Larger fish use the structures for spawning and for hunting the smaller fish.

Burnette explains that each state’s department of wildlife records the placement of these structures, plotting them with GPS coordinates. This way, fishing enthusiasts can find out exactly where they are, and they won’t create safety hazards for boaters and swimmers later on.

So tossing your tree into the lake is not only hazardous, but in violation of TVA regulations.

“A permit is required to place fish attractors or other structures in our reservoirs,” says Burnette. “We have strict guidelines for how they must be constructed and what can be included. This is for the good of the fish and the people who enjoy our reservoirs.” 

Recycle and Upcycle

In recent years, every state and many cities have developed Christmas tree recycling programs in which they safely turn the trees into mulch or other usable products. Check this helpful website—just choose your state and you’ll find detailed, updated information on how to participate.

Don’t forget: your tree must be natural and must be completely free of lights, ornaments, tinsel, garland or other decorations in order to be beneficially recycled.

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