Governments spell out options to recycle live Christmas trees

Stock image via; some rights reserved.
Stock image via; some rights reserved.

That dried-out live Christmas tree that once looked so crisp and smelled so wonderful has to go out the door when the strings of lights come down and the ornaments are packed away for another year. Shelby County and local suburban governments are clear about how they can help with disposals.

In Bartlett, residents can simply place their trees on the curb on their regular pickup day. It’s important to remove all ornaments and decorations, even strands of tinsel. Failure to do so means the city won’t put the tree through the chipper.

“As long as it’s just a good clean tree, we can send it to recycling,” said Ronnie Caldwell, solid waste division manager for the Bartlett Public Works Department.

There’s not a cutoff day for tree disposal, as long as residents place them on the curb on the right day, he said. “We’ve picked them up in July before, believe it or not.”

Jones Mulch or Nature’s Earth contracts with the city to chop up the discarded Christmas trees along with other municipal wood trimmings, such as trimmed tree limbs. The resulting mulch goes onto the city’s flowerbeds as needed.

It helps, Caldwell said.

“It’s a government mandate that municipalities recycle at least 25 percent of what we collect, and we are proud to say we recycle about 48 percent,” he said.

Lakelanders can put their trees curbside as well if the trees aren’t over four feet tall. People who have towering trees don’t need to feel excluded, though: The city accepts larger Christmas trees as long as they are cut into pieces no more than four feet long.

The city recommends that trees be placed out for disposal within the first three weeks of the new year.

Rhonda Fink, Lakeland’s community services representative for inquiries about sewer and trash services, said the city has about a 45 percent solid waste recycling participation rate. In 2015 (the latest year for which full data is available), Lakeland recycled 3.18 tons of metal, 590 tons of commingled trash and 166 tons of yard waste.

Arlington outsources its solid waste and refuse collection to WastePro, based in Southaven, Miss. Like Bartlett and Lakeland’s municipal programs, WastePro also accepts live trees left on the curb for pickup, but the size can be up to eight feet tall. Larger trees must be cut into pieces no bigger than that for pickup.

Tinsel on the tree is acceptable in Arlington, but there cannot be any glass ornaments left among the branches. The town doesn’t have a firm cutoff date when Christ-mas trees are no longer accepted.

For any Shelby Countians who want to drop off their old live Christmas trees, the county government will again operate a recycling center for discarded holiday trees and greenery at the Agricenter in early 2017.

Through Jan. 9, Christmas trees and other greenery can be dropped off in a designated area near Showplace Arena at 105 South Germantown Road. The items must be free of lights and decorations.

“This is the 18th year for the program,” said Tom Needham, director of Shelby County Public Works. “We want people to take advantage of this free service and bring their trees and other decorations to the recycling center. After the holidays, we find many of these items dumped along the roadsides.”

The recycling initiative is part of Shelby County’s Sustainable Shelby program, which focuses on ways to conserve energy and protect natural resources. Mulch made from the greenery will be available to citizens next spring and fall during Earth Day or America Recycles events.
The Shelby County initiative is funded by a litter removal grant from the State of Tennessee Department of Transportation. For more information, contact Lisa Williams at the Shelby County Public Works Environmental Programs office at

Those who had live Christmas trees this year also have the option to help Memphis Botanic Garden with their recycled live Christmas trees. People can take their trees to The Yard (a mulch yard) at 1735 Thomas just off of Covington Pike and Pleasant View weekdays 7 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturdays 7 a.m.-2 p.m. (closed on New Year’s Day). Be sure to mention Memphis Botanic Garden when you drop it off, and they will donate $5 to the Memphis Botanic Garden and recycle your tree into mulch.

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to