Recycle that Christmas Tree—the Right Way

Don’t just chuck your tree on the curb this year. Consider constructive recycling it so that it can be used as mulch, a soil-erosion barrier or as fish habitat.

JANUARY 2, 2016—Those who enjoy a natural pine, cedar, fir or spruce tree for Christmas often don’t know what to do with the tree after the holidays. Each year nationwide, millions of trees are taken to the curb and end up as unneeded solid waste in local landfills. That’s a shame, because the trees can be used constructively.

pile of old christmas trees


Recycling trees is a better option—they can be used for mulch, soil erosion barriers or fish habitat. However, TVA does not advise citizens to dump trees into its reservoirs on their own.

“Leave it to the wildlife professionals,” says TVA watershed representative Josh Burnette. “There is a science behind creating proper fish habitat. Throwing trees in lakes in the wrong places can create a safety hazard for boaters and swimmers.”

How the Pros Handle It

State agencies, such as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, try to get a large number of Christmas trees each year so they can use them as fish habitat in lakes, says Burnette, but these agencies have a process in which they bundle trees and use them to create complex underwater structures that provide the best cover for fish. 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.

According to Burnette, each state’s department of wildlife records the placement of the structures for angles by plotting them with GPS coordinates. That way, fishermen can check the fish and wildlife website and know exactly where to cast their lines. In addition, tracking the placement of the structures ensures they will not be a hazard to boaters and swimmers when warmer weather comes around.

Find a Recycling Location Near You

There are several programs in the Tennessee Valley where people can donate their trees to state fish and wildlife agencies or to local organizations to be chopped into mulch. Check state, county, and city resources or local garden center websites to see if they accept trees. When donated, trees must be natural and completely free of lights, ornaments, tinsel, garland or any other decorations.

NOTE: When donated, trees must be natural and completely free of lights, ornaments, tinsel, garland or any other decorations.