How to legally trash your Christmas tree

Safety, Tips & how-to

With the holidays coming to a close, un-decorating the house can be a real challenge—especially when it comes to the once beautiful, but now withering conifer in the living room. For those with a real Christmas tree, there are a number of issues to consider when discarding the remnants.

Aside from environmental concerns, properly disposing of an old Christmas tree also involves civil and municipal regulatory mandates, as well as possible additional rules courtesy of homeowners’ association (HOA) bylaws. To avoid trouble, consider the following pointers as you transport that beloved Douglas fir to its final resting place:

1) Consider recycling

This is not mandatory in most jurisdictions, but many areas offer residents the option to recycle their trees as a way to boost sustainability and avoid unnecessary waste. When destined for a municipal recycling center ( you can easily find ones in your area with a quick web search), trees generally need to meet height and trunk-width requirements and be free of decorations, including tinsel and garlands. In certain areas of the United States, recycled Christmas trees help prevent wetland loss, provide habitat for fish, help restore dwindling dunes, and even create electricity.

2) Be mindful of fire

According to the National Fire Protection Association, over 37 percent of Christmas tree fires occur in January. By the end of the holiday season, a live Christmas tree has undoubtedly seen better days. It may be extremely dehydrated, creating perfect fodder for fire. In an apartment setting, a Christmas tree fire can be especially dangerous, leading to displaced residents, injuries, or even fatalities.

Furthermore, homeowners or renters who allowed their tree to dry out could face personal liability in negligence for not properly caring for and disposing of a Christmas tree that caused a fire. To avoid this, keep your tree well-hydrated throughout the season (the cats will thank you, too) and then dispose of it before it starts drooping and dropping lots of needles.

3) Think before you dump

Words to live by. For many, disposing of an old Christmas tree seems as simple as pitching the pine to the curb. However, there may be problems with this method, particularly in planned communities with regulations regarding lot aesthetics. At a minimum, an HOA will likely prohibit the dumping of yard waste (including trees) in common areas (e.g., in dumpsters, wood piles, or forest grounds). In some communities, leaving yard waste on the curb—even if permitted by the municipality—can trigger complaints from the HOA board. If allowed to escalate, the problem could become litigious—not a great way to start the New Year.

4) Check with your town

Most well-run municipalities anticipate an influx of fading firs and putrefying pines each year and will have implemented protocols accordingly, to help ensure proper transport and disposal. In some areas, there may be official Christmas tree drop-off locations around town (search your location’s community/city websites for more information) that will accept old trees, usually for free or for a small fee. Other areas will allow residents the option of leaving their tress curbside on a designated day for pick-up and transport by the local town or county.

When leaving curbside, however, there may be specific requirements as to how the tree should be bound, where it should be placed, and how large the tree may be, so be sure to check local guidelines.

Good luck, and merry after-Christmas!

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