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Recycling Christmas


We’re not talking about re-gifting here – we’re talking about recycling Christmas trees and Christmas lights. Whether you have a real tree or an artificial one, below are some disposal options to consider as you un-deck the halls.

Ready to tear down the tinsel?

We’re not talking about re-gifting here – we’re talking about recycling Christmas trees and Christmas lights.


Whether you have a real tree or an artificial one, below are some disposal options to consider as you un-deck the halls.


How to Recycle Real Trees


If you and your family celebrate Christmas with a live tree, it won’t be long before it’s time to bid adieu to your piney house guest.  Before you take your tree to recycling, you may want to cut portions of the trunk into disks to use as a trivet or as coasters – especially if this was a milestone year like a first married Christmas together.  You can use a wood burner to personalize your keepsakes and enjoy them for years to come.

The likelihood of someone in your neighborhood owning a tree chipper is pretty slim, yet if you’re lucky enough to know someone who does you can organize a tree chipper party and then share the wood chips with other neighbors who might like them for their gardens or flower beds.


Most counties set up free Christmas tree drop-off recycling locations.  In Douglas County, Colorado for example, trees can be dropped off from December 26th through January 31st at four different locations (https://www.douglas.co.us/dcoutdoors/christmas-tree-recycling/).  Check with your local county to find a list of drop-off locations, dates and hours of operation.  Many of the drop-off locations offer free mulch to residents.


If you live outside of Colorado, here is a great resource where you can find local Christmas tree recycling options:  http://pickyourownchristmastree.org/disposing.php


Please note that live trees with artificial snow sprayed on the branches cannot be mulched. 

What To Do With Artificial Trees


One of the good things about artificial Christmas trees is that they last for years – and that’s important because there really isn’t an option to recycle them.  What to do?  Reuse or repurpose them!


Some crafty people will snip branches from artificial trees and use them to make wreaths or tabletop centerpieces.  If you’re not one of those people, here are a few suggestions:


      Donate your tree to a nursing home or assisted living facility, a church, a school, or even a local theatre company to use in one of their productions.  Even if the lights no longer work, burned-out bulbs won’t be noticed once the tree is strung with new lights and decorated with glistening ornaments.


      We have friends who actually took their old artificial Christmas tree and ‘planted’ it in a corner of their back yard among other live trees on their property.  An untrained eye would never notice the new addition and a great benefit is that the tree will never out-grow the space where it’s planted.


Recycling Lights


We all have them – strings of Christmas lights that are so tangled up or no longer work but we keep keeping them because we’re not really sure how to dispose of them properly.  Hint:  throwing them in the trash is not it!


Why Recycle Christmas Lights?


Many types of Christmas lights – especially compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) – contain lead or mercury, both of which are harmful to the environment, even in small doses.  When you put Christmas lights in the trash, they wind up in the landfill where it’s likely that at least some of them will break, if they haven’t already.  The toxic substances from broken bulbs can seep into the earth and, from there, into the groundwater which poses a risk to wild animals and insects as well as to humans.  Fortunately, Christmas lights are recyclable!


Recycling centers use commercial shredders to shred the strings and bulbs into smaller pieces.  Those pieces are then sorted into raw materials (plastic, glass, copper) and transported to regional centers for further processing.  Finally, the separated parts are used to make new products, like slipper soles.  When you realize all of the steps that are needed to recycle old Christmas lights and how many people participate in the process, it’s easy to appreciate the people and the places that make the effort to do this important task.


Where to Recycle Christmas Lights

Earth911.com has a very handy online option where you can plug in any kind of recyclable item to find places near you where you can drop them off for recycling.  Some places are national chains and others are local recycling facilities.  Be aware that some places offer free recycling and others charge a fee, yet it’s always worth the investment in our environment to keep as many items out of the landfills as possible.

As a reminder, be sure to check directly with stores before you make the trip.  Not all stores within regional or national chains participate and some stores only recycle certain types of bulbs (i.e., CFLs but not the 4-foot long fluorescent tube bulbs).

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