How and Where to Recycle Your Christmas Tree in Virginia

By Nancy B
December 19, 2022

Cover picture by (Spencer R. Layne/U.S. Navy)

If you're ready to dispose of this year's Christmas tree, we've got resources. Virginia has plenty of sustainable, green cleaning ways to put your tree to good use rather than putting it in the local landfill. Read on!

Can you reuse your tree for firewood? 

We do not recommend chopping up your tree as fuel for your home fireplace or wood stove. In addition to not being adequately seasoned, evergreens have very high levels of flammable resin. And the combination of quick-burning needles and sparks from the tree pitch creates dangerous smoke and sudden large fires. These fires burn extremely hot and can damage your firebox and chimney. 

Pine tree in snow

Can you store a Christmas tree outside until spring? 

You may want to keep your tree for spring compost or animals outside your house. But this could draw all sorts of pests, weed seeds, and tree diseases that contaminate other plants and trees. The tree will also dry out, and dry Christmas trees can quickly become a fire hazard. 

How do you prepare your tree for recycling?

Start by making sure you have removed all ornaments and hooks, tinsel, lights, and the stand. Do not bag your tree. If your tree is taller than 8 feet, it's a good idea to cut it into two pieces. Do not include an artificial tree for natural Christmas tree recycling and collection. Search online to donate your artificial tree locally, inquire with Goodwill, or post to social media to see if someone would like your used tree.

You can even recycle your old lights. Lowes and Home Depot stores have recycling stations at the entrance where you can drop off old and broken lights, and there are online sources that accept old lights if you're willing to mail them. 

Christmas tree with farm animals

Creative Christmas tree recycling ideas

Did you know you can donate your leftover tree for local dune restoration and receive a coupon for a free cheese pizza? Chico's Pizza in Virginia Beach hosts an Annual Tree Drive right after Christmas. Over the years, they have collected more than 500 trees and delivered them to the Outer Banks to help battle beach erosion. The trees and their needles protect vegetation and sand from wind and water erosion, as well as wildlife shelter. The nutrients are also beneficial for the beach grass.

Christmas for the Fish by Virginia State Parks on licensed under CC BY 2.0

Christmas for the Fish by Virginia State Parks on licensed under CC BY 2.0

You can also check with local zoos and animal rescue centers for recycling programs for animals. In past years, Claytor Lake and Hungry Mother State Park in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Resources in southwest Virginia, have accepted donated fresh Christmas trees to build underwater reef structures for game fish. Check with Virginia State Parks to determine if they are running the program this year.

There's even a local Tennessee elephant sanctuary that takes trees for their trunked residents. You can see them enjoying the leftover trees in this video or on their live elecam

The Naval Support Activity of Hampton Roads recycles trees for restoring and conserving dune habitat and protecting Military Training grounds.

The Virginia Living Museum in Richmond recycles natural Christmas trees for the animals in their care. 

If you have livestock, check with your veterinarian before you feed pine needles to your farm friends. While pine needles can provide nutrient-rich fodder and natural deworming, certain varieties of trees can result in pine toxicity in large amounts.


                                 Photo courtesy of NOVEC      

Other Virginia Recycling and Collection 

Home Depot and Lowes stores in some locations hold tree collection events. Call your local store to ask if one is scheduled. Additionally, your city waste management most likely has a composting or recycling program available. Some local recycling centers will chip your tree up and turn it into mulch. Check county government sites for recycling efforts in your area. 


NOVEC recycling program