Christmas Tree Disposal

Solid Waste Management Program fact sheet
Division of Environmental Quality Director: Ed Galbraith

Since 1992, state law has prohibited Missouri landfills from accepting yard wastes and Christmas trees. Two reasons exist for the law. First, these materials constitute 20 percent of solid waste destined for landfills. Second, beneficial uses abound for these materials.

Disposing of a live Christmas tree does not need to be a post-holiday problem. Several environmentally sound disposal methods are available. Not only are the methods safe for the environment, but they also can provide enjoyment for you, your family and your friends.

Create Mulch

Consider using a chipping machine to turn a Christmas tree into landscaping mulch. You can use the mulch in your garden or planting beds to reduce the number of weeds, modify soil temperature and retain moisture. You also can use the chipped material as part of nutrient-rich compost if you add it in moderate amounts.

Many municipalities recycle Christmas trees by chipping them for mulch. Contact your local public works or sanitation department to find out if your community has a program. If they don’t, you may want to suggest that they start one.

Build Fish Habitat

If you have a fishing pond, your Christmas tree can help improve fish habitat. The trees attract fish of all sizes. Small fish eat aquatic insects that find a home in the tree branches. Small fish also use the trees as escape areas from larger fish. As a result, the potential for good fishing around the trees increases.

It is easy to prepare your Christmas tree for use as fish habitat. Tie a cement block securely to the stump end with quarter-inch nylon rope. If you have a boat, you can drop your tree
any place you wish in your private lake or pond. Make sure that the water is the correct depth to cover the top of the tree by no more than four to six feet. If you don’t have a boat, wait until the pond is frozen over with at least six inches of ice. Drag your tree with the attached cement block to the place you want it to be. When the ice melts, your tree will sink to the bottom.

Most people do not own lakes or ponds where they can place their trees, so don’t place your tree in a lake or pond that is not your own. You may want to contact the owners of lakes, whether private or public, to find out if they would like to use your tree to improve fish habitat. Some communities coordinate efforts with area residents and businesses to collect Christmas trees for lake habits. However, these communities may require permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Build Brush Piles For Wildlife

Christmas trees make excellent brush piles for wildlife. Brush piles provide cover for small mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Animals use brush piles as shelter, safe resting areas and as places to nest and raise young. In rural areas, good locations for brush piles are near edges of overgrown fields. Undeveloped areas in suburban yards also may provide good locations for brush piles. Always check local ordinances before constructing a brush pile in a town or subdivision.

To build a brush pile, first create a base of large materials, such as rocks, logs and/or tree stumps, for piling Christmas trees. The base provides small animals access to the interior of the brush pile. Stack trees on the base until the pile is about six feet high. Obviously, you will need more than one Christmas tree to build a brush pile. You may want to coordinate efforts with friends and neighbors to ensure that you have adequate material for your brush pile.

Dos and Don’ts of Christmas Tree Disposal

* Do remove all decorations before disposing of a tree. Search carefully for any ornaments that may be hiding on inner branches. It's important to remove all decorations because they can contaminate mulch, pollute water, harm wildlife and create litter.

* Also remove trimmings from any outdoor trees you decorate for wildlife. For instance, some people create feeders from cereal strung on yarn. Once wildlife finish eating the cereal, remove the yarn.

* Do dispose of your tree in an environmentally safe manner. Disposing of Christmas trees in any of the ways described above will benefit Missouri’s natural resources and save landfill space.

* Don’t burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove while it is green. Resins in a green tree can trigger a flue fire.

* Do some research if your tree has been flocked with artificial snow or decorated with glitter. These trees may require special handling. For instance, if your municipality accepts Christmas trees for mulching or fish habit, call to see if your flocked tree is acceptable. Municipalities often consider flocked trees garbage items.