As folks are taking down their holiday decorations, they may be wondering the best way to dispose of their natural Christmas trees.
Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County has been collecting natural Christmas trees since 1964 and park Superintendent Randy Newman told Coastal Review he thinks around 80,000 trees have been collected in that time.
The park has already begun collecting trees from this holiday season. Visitors can drop their tree off at the end of the fort parking lot.
“The trees are placed along the dune line where the trees act as sand fence catching the sand and building the dunes,” Newman said. “Within a year the tree is normally buried by sand and vegetation is growing on top of it.”
While Fort Macon has a program in place to use natural Christmas trees to build dunes, it’s not ideal for all barrier islands and habitat.
Lindsay Addison, coastal biologist for Audubon North Carolina, told Coastal Review that, over the past three years or so, they’ve noticed more trees being left on Lea-Hutaff Island after Christmas. They also have received some inquiries from groups about doing tree-placement projects.
“In response, we looked into the pros and cons with the Coastal Federation and checked with (Division of Coastal Management) about related regulations. We concluded that unless there’s a need for a cost-effective alternative to installing sand fencing, trees aren’t needed,” she said. “And, unless they are being used as sand fencing they will require their own permit.”
The Division of Coastal Management said in a release last week that property owners, organizations and towns that plan to use natural Christmas trees for dune restoration or beach sand fencing must meet the state’s rules for sand fencing and should submit a Coastal Area Management Act, or CAMA, minor permit application for review to ensure compliance.
Addison explained that generally, for undeveloped barrier islands, the trees are more of a nuisance than a benefit.
“Some of the trees that people have left on the island have washed into the marsh after storms, requiring removal so they don’t harm the vegetation. Some have been put in places that obstruct or diminish bird and turtle nesting habitat. None of them met the state’s regulations. People obviously mean well and want to help barrier islands, but unless the tree is part of an approved placement project, it’s best to pursue other options,” Addison said.
If there isn’t a barrier island project available there are other options, like free mulching programs, which are more eco-friendly than using commercially produced mulch.
“An old Christmas tree is also a ready-made brush pile that is prefect habitat for birds and other backyard critters. Wildlife such as wrens, sparrows, and squirrels will appreciate it,” she said.
Addison added that the organization will place temporary signs letting people know not to drop off their trees.
Many of the towns and counties on the coast have plans in place to help residents properly dispose of natural Christmas trees.
Brunswick County is accepting during this month trees at the county landfill site at 172 Landfill Road in Bolivia, free of charge. There is a $5 charge to drop off the trees at the convenience sites in Sunset Beach, Supply, Southport and Leland.
Southport will collect trees with all the decorations removed that are placed in the right-of-way by Jan. 14 to be picked up Jan. 15.
Craven County accepts Christmas trees at any of its seven convenience centers, said Steven Aster, solid waste director with the county, adding this disposal is free of charge.
New Bern will pick up natural trees, without decorations, from the curbside as yard waste pickup. Artificial trees are part of bulk waste pickup.
In addition to Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County, Surfrider Foundation Bogue Banks Chapter is collecting Christmas trees at the corner of Islander and Emerald drives in Emerald Isle to help build dunes on a section of beach in Emerald Isle. Organizers ask that all ornaments, plastic, and tinsel be removed prior to drop off.
Jen Welborn, chair of the Bogue Banks chapter, said they will collect trees until Jan. 28. On Saturday, Jan. 29, Surfrider Bogue Banks will host an event to haul them out to The Point. All are welcome to attend.
“We secure the trees at The Point with stakes and twine, within CAMA regulations. The trees act as a sand fence to collect sand as the wind blows, and eventually develop into or add to existing dunes to help protect our little island from hurricanes and storms,” she said.
The organization has been hosting this event since 2018 when they collected about 50 trees.
“We recycled 208 trees in 2021, 162 in 2020, 160 in 2019, about 50 in 2018, and we hope to collect even more this year,” Welborn said.
Emerald Isle property owners and residents also can discard their live Christmas tree by placing it curbside on their regular yard waste pickup day. The town’s public works will not collect artificial trees.
Christmas trees may be dropped off on the southwest corner of the Iron Steam Public Beach Access in Pine Knoll Shores. “We’ll make good use of them on the beach to help build our dunes,” Brian Kramer, town manager, said in a letter to residents.
Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter at 100 Wildlife Way, Newport, is collecting natural Christmas trees with all decorations removed to be used as natural habitat, according to a Facebook post.
Randall Edwards, with Currituck County Public Information, said Currituck County has eight recycling/convenience centers where residents drop off their trash and recycling materials.
“Each of these sites will accept live Christmas trees. All decorations and tinsel must be removed from the tree prior to disposal,” Edwards said.
The Dare County Public Works Department will not pick up any Christmas trees that are left on the curbside within the unincorporated areas of Dare County, which include Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras Village on Hatteras Island, the county mainland’s East Lake, Manns Harbor, Mashoes and Stumpy Point communities, as well as Wanchese, Colington and Martins Point, according to a release.
Though Dare County does not pick up Christmas trees, they are being accepted at the county recycling center, 1018 Driftwood Drive, in Manteo, Shanna Fullmer, public works director said. Christmas trees can be dropped off at the Buxton Transfer Station, 47027 Buxton Back Road, as well.
Trees that are dropped off at these locations will be recycled into mulch.
Manteo officials request that residents place their undecorated Christmas trees next to their roll carts during the town’s regular Monday and Thursday sanitation runs for removal.
Duck Public Works will collect undecorated Christmas trees from the curbside on its regular Monday and Tuesday collection routes through Jan. 11. The town also asks that trees be placed on the curbside the night before scheduled collection date.
Southern Shores residents may place their undecorated Christmas trees in their limb and branch piles for collection during the regularly scheduled pickup for their sector. Wreaths are excluded and will not be collected.
“Alternatively, Christmas trees may be taken to the north end of Hillcrest Beach Access Parking lot,” said Cynthia Mills, administrative specialist with the town.
Kitty Hawk officials request that residents place their undecorated Christmas trees along the curbside for pickup.
Kill Devil Hills officials said the town will be collecting natural undecorated Christmas trees placed along the curbside beginning Jan. 12, though trees must be placed on the curbside no later than Jan. 11.
Nags Head residents are asked to place their undecorated Christmas trees along the side of the road in front of their property, where they are to be collected as part of the town’s monthly curbside bulk item/brush collection service. The town also reminds residents to set their trees in a separate pile from the rest of any bulk items that need to be collected.
Gates County does not have any special arrangements for Christmas tree disposal, officials said.
Joe Suleyman, environmental management director for New Hanover County, said the county, in partnership with the city of Wilmington, will be collecting natural trees and wreaths through Jan. 31 free of charge at the following locations: Home Depot at 210 Eastwood Road, Home Depot at 5511 Carolina Beach Road, and the New Hanover County Landfill, 5210 U.S. Highway 421 N., all in Wilmington.
No artificial trees or wreaths will be accepted, and all decorations must be removed. At both the Home Depot locations, there is a fenced area, with signage, in the parking lot to collect the trees. Residents are encouraged to stack the trees neatly, as space is limited, Suleyman said.
“We would like to express our appreciation to the Home Depot for providing space again this year, and many thanks to the City of Wilmington solid waste department for assisting us with the collection and transport of the trees. Trees are ground up and used to either generate compost or as mulch for erosion control,” Suleyman added.
Onslow County Solid Waste Director Randy Vanover told Coastal Review that the county accepts trees at convenience sites at 122 Carver Drive in Jacksonville and 320 Old Folkstone Road in Holly Ridge. The main Landfill at 415 Meadowview Road in Jacksonville is also accepting trees.
“They are taken as yard waste, and there is a charge of $1 per tree at the convenience sites and $31 per ton at the landfill,” that is equal to 2 cents a pound with a 31-cent minimum, Vanover wrote in an email response to Coastal Review. “Since acquiring the shredder we will plan on shredding the trees this year separately and using it for landscaping around the landfill.”
He said that he has not been contacted by any organizations this year about recycling.
Hammocks Beach State Park is not accepting live Christmas trees this year. “The hundreds of trees collected over the past two years were enough to stimulate the formation of new sand dunes on Bear Island,” according to a Facebook post.
North Topsail Beach residents can drop off their natural, undecorated Christmas trees through mid-January in the designated area at the Jeffries parking lot at 316 New River Inlet Road. Trees are to be used in dune restoration or beach sand fencing.
In Topsail Beach, Christmas trees will be picked up during the first Friday bulk-item pickup. The next two bulk item pickup dates are Jan. 7 and Feb. 4.
Pamlico County has no arrangements for natural tree disposal, officials said.
Pasquotank County Solid Waste Director Brad Gardner told Coastal Review that the county doesn’t have any specific recycle program, but trees are treated as yard waste or land clearing debris.
“We basically combine them with yard waste and have them ground up as mulch every 6 months. We then use this mulch as alternative daily cover in the operation of our construction and demolition landfill,” Gardner wrote in an email response.
Gardner added that residents are encouraged to remove all ornaments, lights and metal bases in advance before disposing them as yard waste.
“You would really be amazed at how many people throw the entire tree out with everything still attached,” he said. “These materials contaminate the yard waste pile and finished mulch while also damaging equipment when the wire gets tangled.”
If you have artificial trees to throw out, they can’t be disposed of as yard waste and are instead treated as bulky waste.
“Leave them on the curb within city limits or at the drop-off sites be sure to tell the attendant and they will direct them to the bulky waste dumpster where desks, sofas and other large items are sent,” he said.
Pender County Solid Waste is accepting Christmas trees for disposal at the Rocky Point and Hampstead convenience sites only.
Discarded Christmas trees deposited at the convenience sites must have all ornaments and lights removed. All residents must show the “recycle” decal. For a complete listing of convenience centers and daily schedules visit the website.
In Perquimans County, Christmas trees are to be deposited in yard waste containers at the solid waste convenience sites.
“They become part of our yard waste compost program, which provides free compost to the community,” W. Frank Heath, Perquimans County manager, said.