Three days ago, it was the centerpiece of the Christmas celebration.
Now it’s a rapidly drying fire hazard. Time to strip down the Christmas tree and drag it to the curb.
Curbside tree pickups will begin Monday in most Triangle cities and towns that recycle yard waste. It’s as simple as leaving the tree out next to the garbage cart. And for residents outside city limits, counties will provide drop-off sites at designated garbage convenience centers and parks.
That’s not the end of the line for the trees. Rather than rotting in a landfill, they’ll be turned into wood chips and mulch. Wake County dubs its tree recycling program “Happy Trails” because the mulch goes on walking trails at county parks.
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Raleigh offers residents a chance to see their old trees go to good use. The city – which picks up trees on regular trash days – sells the wood chips and mulch at its yard waste center on New Hope Road.
In coastal communities, old trees also have an important second life: bolstering sand dunes to slow beach erosion. Fort Macon State Park at Atlantic Beach hopes to collect 4,000 trees for its efforts between now and March 1.
“Especially since we had a hurricane this year, we did lose a little bit of sand dunes,” said park ranger Benjamin Fleming. Fort Macon also needs trees to stabilize dunes for construction of a new hiking trail, he said.
Whether the Christmas tree is bound for the curb or the coast, it can’t stay inside much longer. Assistant State Fire Marshal Rick McIntyre said trees typically dry out and pose an increasing fire hazard after about two weeks indoors.
“The easiest way is to reach up and grab a branch – see if the needles fall off easily,” McIntyre said. “If they break off or crinkle in your hand, then it’s time to get it on out of your house.”
Some discarded trees get stored in the garage, which McIntyre said is a bad idea.
Heat from car exhaust and other sources makes them just as dangerous there, he said.
And with 93 fire-related deaths in North Carolina so far this year – up significantly from recent years – McIntyre hopes the number doesn’t grow in the waning days of the holiday season.
“We’re going in the wrong direction to improve fire safety,” he said.
Other things to know about Christmas tree disposal: Most drop-off sites will be closed Thursday for New Year’s Day. And all recycling services require all ornaments, lights and tinsel be removed first.
Those shiny red balls and plastic icicles just don’t make for good mulch.