As the holiday season comes to an end, the stockings that were hung by the chimney with care are back in the box along with the keepsake ornaments and strands of lights that were just adorning the branches of your natural Christmas tree.
Now, what to do with the tree itself?
There are quite a few options here on the coast for proper disposal, from putting the tree on the curb for your town to pick up to donating it for dune stabilization. All require the tree be free of any decorations, including tinsel, lights, garland, hooks and ornaments.
The trees also can be used as a substitute for traditional sand fencing.
“The use of Christmas trees as a sand fencing alternative is a long-standing practice on our beaches to help stabilize and grow the dune system,” Division of Coastal Management regulatory section chief Jonathan Howell told Coastal Review.
There are rules for how the trees should be placed. Rows should be the width of a single tree, installed at a 45-degree angle to the shoreline, no more than 10 feet seaward of the toe of the natural dune, and there should be a minimum of 7 feet between trees. Trees should not impede emergency vehicle and public beach accesses or endanger sea turtles during nesting season, which kicks off in a few months.
“Following the sand fencing rules ensures the placement of Christmas trees allows for the continued enjoyment of the beach by the public and the protection of existing vegetation and habitat,” Howell added.
Audubon North Carolina Coastal biologist Lindsay Addison reiterated in an interview that following the division’s rules or obtaining the proper permit is the only legal way to leave your live Christmas tree on a beach or barrier island.
“There are rules about how sand fencing is set up to minimize harm to sea turtles and native beach ecosystems,” she said.
She said a few years back, there were about 50 trees left on a protected island, prompting Audubon to post signs reminding visitors not to leave trees.
“People think they’re doing good when they dump their natural trees on beaches or barrier islands, and I appreciate the thought but it’s just not helpful in the long run,” she said. “I’ve seen trees washed into the marsh, out on the beach and half buried in the foreshore where it’s an impediment to sea turtles.”
Though the tree is essentially debris and can cause harm to the wildlife, “there are many things you can do with your Christmas tree that’s positive,” Addison said, including composting the tree or donating it to a dune stabilization program.
Onslow County Extension Agent Emilee Morrison agrees that recycling the Christmas tree is a great way to help the environment.
“By repurposing your tree, you could improve your garden, provide wildlife habitat, create fish habitat, or even help stabilize sand dunes. Live trees take years of care and maintenance to grow to the size you purchase them as, so why not add that resource back to the environment rather than taking them to the landfill,” she said.
Morrison suggested in a guide for recycling trees a handful of options including using a chipper to reduce small limbs to compost, place branches on top of landscaped beds, submerge the tree in a private fishpond to become a fish feeding refuge, check with area wildlife shelters to see if they can use the tree, or donate the tree for dune stabilization efforts.
Addison said Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach “is a great example of a Christmas tree program.”
The state park has collected trees since the 1960s for dune stabilization.
Park Ranger Benjamin Fleming reiterated that tinsel and Christmas lights should be removed before dropping off the tree at the designated area in the parking lot.
“We continue to receive lots of trees that have both left on and we have to spend hours pulling it all off. And usually, the lights are in working condition,” he said.
Also on the island, Surfrider Bogue Banks is collecting natural trees at the corner of Islander and Emerald drives in Emerald Isle now through Jan. 26 as part of their seventh annual holiday tree collection.
“We ask that volunteers please drop off clean, live trees for us to recycle and use in essential dune creation at The Point in Emerald Isle,” Chair Jen Welborn said, adding the request that all lights, ornaments, plastic, tags, garland, tinsel and other decorations be removed from the trees before they’re dropped off.
The dune restoration event is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 27. Volunteers will help move and secure all of the trees at The Point, the western most beach in Emerald Isle. Volunteers are needed, including those with pickup trucks, work gloves and rubber mallets.
“Last year we collected 336 trees with a grand total of over 1,000 since this projects’ inception in 2018. We are expecting even more trees this year as many local businesses and municipalities will be participating,” she said.
Jason Holland at Gimme Some Mower Lawn Care, LLC has volunteered to pick up trees for those who are unable. He can be reached at 919-623-0653.
For a $10 suggested donation, Sea Scout Ship and Maritime Explorer Club 7730 will collect discarded trees for Fort Macon State Park or Emerald Isle.
Those interested in volunteering can email email@example.com.
Cape Fear Surfrider is working with Carolina Beach for the organization’s ninth dune restoration event. The town will collect the Christmas trees to be used for restoration during scheduled yard debris pick up.
“This event is always a great way to kick off the year by helping to stop erosion of our dunes and reduce spending on beach re-nourishment, and also helps to rebuild natural habitats, protect ocean front property, and divert old trees from the landfill,” organizers said. Coffee and donuts will be provided. Bring a shovel, tape measure and scissors.
A handful of wildlife rescues can also make good use of your natural trees including SkyWatch Bird Rescue in Castle Hayne at 855-407-3728, Wild at Heart Wildlife Sanctuary in Richlands at 910-430-0794, Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary at 119 Doe Drive, Hubert, and Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter at 100 Wildlife Way, Newport.
Beaufort County does not offer Christmas tree recycling but the residents can dispose of the trees in their regular yard waste.
Brunswick County Landfill in Bolivia will accept live trees at no charge from Jan. 2-31. After Jan. 31, normal tipping fees apply. Live Christmas trees are accepted for $5 per tree at the convenience centers from Jan. 2-31. All ornaments, lights and decorations must be removed..
Camden County does not currently have a county-run program for natural tree disposal or recycling.
Carteret County officials recommend donating live Christmas trees to Fort Macon State Park or explore options provided by towns across the county that accept trees for recycling.
Beaufort collects live Christmas trees from the curb, separate from yard debris by 7 a.m. every Monday this month. Cedar Point will collect live trees free of decorations from curbsides. Both will deliver the trees to Fort Macon.
Residents of Chowan, Perquimans and Gates counties can recycle their live Christmas trees by in the yard waste containers at one of the many convenience sites or taking the tree to the PCG Transfer Station in Belvidere.
Live Christmas trees are used in the composting program, which turns trees and yard debris into compost and mulch. Compost and mulch produced through this program are available free to community members and those living in the surrounding areas.
Edenton allows residents to put the natural trees for collection at the curb. Public Works delivers the trees to the American Legion Fairgrounds for the Edenton-Chowan Educational Foundation to host an annual bonfire using the trees as a fundraiser for the school system.
Craven County Solid Waste Director Steven Aster said there are several options for disposing of a natural Christmas tree.
Residents can take natural trees to any of the seven convenience centers in Craven County which are open from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and 1-6:30 p.m. Sunday. Craven County will deliver the natural trees to the landfill for composting or chipping.
Residents of the county’s municipalities should check with their town about curbside collection.
New Bern residents can place their natural Christmas trees free of all decorations, lights and the tree stand on the curb for pickup. The trees must be no more than 5 feet in length and 5 inches in diameter so that the town’s equipment can pick them up. These trees will be mulched to use in city landscaping projects.
Currituck County has eight recycling centers and each will accept live Christmas trees with all decorations and tinsel removed.
Dare County residents in unincorporated areas can take their undecorated Christmas trees to be turned into mulch to Manns Harbor Transfer Station at 1603 Cub Road or to the Dare County Public Works Compound on Roanoke Island.
Duck is collecting trees from the roadside Jan. 8 and Jan. 15. Undecorated and tinsel-free trees should be placed on the curb the night before for their scheduled collection day.
In Southern Shores, Christmas trees may be placed in limb/branch piles for collection during scheduled pickup. All metal and decorations must be removed.
Kitty Hawk residents should place their undecorated trees on the curbside on their normal trash collection day.
Kill Devil Hills will be collecting Christmas trees beginning Wednesday, Jan. 10. Trees must be placed in the street right-of-way no later than Tuesday, Jan. 9. No artificial trees or other bulk trash items will be collected.
Nags Head will collect undecorated Christmas trees as a part of the town’s monthly bulk item/brush roadside collection service.
Manteo will collect undecorated Christmas trees from roadsides as a part of the town’s regular Monday and Thursday sanitation runs.
New Hanover County residents who do not have residential trash and yard waste pickup from Wilmington can recycle their Christmas trees for free through Jan. 31.
“We know a lot of people take great pride in decorating for the holidays, but once the season is over many don’t have a way to dispose of their natural décor,” Recycling and Solid Waste Director Joe Suleyman said in a statement. “We’re grateful for this longstanding partnership with The Home Depot which makes sure that real Christmas trees, wreaths, and garlands are recycled into mulch and composted for use in New Hanover County parks, gardens and grounds. This program helps reduce waste in our landfill and keeps our environment clean.”
The yearly program is a partnership between the county’s recycling and solid waste department and Home Depot stores in the county.
The drop-off locations are at the Home Depot, 5511 Carolina Beach Road, The Home Depot, 210 Eastwood Road, and New Hanover County Landfill, 5210 US Highway 421 North.
Residents utilizing this service will see fenced-in areas in The Home Depot parking lots marked with signage to drop-off locations. At the drop-off site, residents are asked to stack materials as neatly as possible due to limited space.
All trees, wreaths and garlands must have lights, ornaments, stands and tinsel removed. Artificial trees and decorations will not be accepted.
Onslow County will accept real Christmas trees at the landfill and convenience sites at 122 Carver Drive in Jacksonville and 320 Old Folkstone Road in Holly Ridge.
Cost is $3 per tree at the convenience sites and $31 per ton at the landfill, which equals to $0.31 per 20 pounds.
Used Christmas lights may be placed in the red Christmas lights bin at the landfill for recycling.
All sites accept artificial Christmas trees as recyclable metal at no charge.
Jacksonville’s sanitation crew picks up Christmas trees as part of their yard waste collection and takes them to the county landfill.
Swansboro residents can place their undecorated trees curbside Jan. 2-19 or drop them off at the public works yard outside the fence. Pickup will occur daily, however on Wednesdays, when yard waste collection occurs, ensure that the trees are placed curbside separately from yard waste.
Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro will not be accepting trees this year.
North Topsail Beach is having the “Grinding of the Greens” Jan. 17. Residents can drop off live Christmas trees at Jeffries parking lot, 316 New River Inlet Road, by Jan. 14. Free mulch will be available for pick up after Jan. 17.
Pamlico County residents can dispose of their Christmas trees at the county landfill at cost of disposal.
Pasquotank County residents can dispose of their natural tree at one of the county’s convenience sites or the landfill. Trees will be placed with other yard waste and chipped into mulch.
Pender County residents may dispose of their Christmas trees at the county’s convenience centers for three weeks following Christmas.
The Rocky Point Convenience Center at 16232 N.C. 210 is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Hampstead Convenience Center at 250 Transfer Station Road is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Christmas tinsels, ornaments, lights, ribbons, etc., should be removed from the trees before being disposed of in the designated cans.
Washington County Landfill will accept real Christmas trees with all decorations removed.