Recycling Christmas Trees for Wildlife – A Sustainable Holiday Option


For so many of us, a Christmas tree is an integral part of the season. Venturing out to find the perfect tree may yield hours of joyful fun that turn into some of the best family memories. We all have hiked up and down rows, armed with a saw and hot chocolate, while the crisp air swirls around us. As we all know, sometimes the process can be intense. Factors to consider: Is it too tall? Too wide? There’s a bird’s nest in it. It’s losing quite a few needles…Does it have enough branches to boastfully display every single one of mom’s extensive Santa ornaments collection? It’s no wonder that this precarious hunt can take quite some time.

Once the trees make it back to our homes, they become a focal part of our yearly holiday decor. There’s finding the best spot in the house, positioning it oh-so-carefully, and adorning the tree with our families’ favorite lights and ornaments. There will be clumsy run-ins with this tree. The cat may choose to spend quite a few nap times resting on the tree skirt. The dog may almost knock it over when the delivery person brings yet another armful of holiday gifts. (Don’t tell my husband.) And magically, one morning, everyone will wake up, and there will be presents under the tree. The tree exists as a reminder of the warmth, brightness, and cheer that can be found during this time of year. It makes sense that the Christmas tree should have an end that is just as significant with such an important role.

As residents of southeastern Wisconsin, we are so fortunate to have an easy option for recycling our Christmas trees. Wanakia Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center located in Richfield wants your tree. There’s no need to discard it sadly at the end of your driveway – Wanakia will give the tree a new lease on life. Wanakia Wildlife provides rescue, rehabilitation, and release of native Wisconsin wildlife for Washington County and surrounding communities. Wanakia exists as a permanent home to sixteen education animals and admits three hundred and fifty ill, injured, or orphaned birds and small mammals annually. The work they do at this center is nothing short of incredible.

But what exactly do they need the Christmas trees for? Wanakia can use the trees in a few different ways. Generally, the trees are used for the birds that are currently residing at the center. The birds may choose to nest in the trees – giving them sanctuary akin to what they would find in the wild. The birds may opt to utilize parts of the tree for various nesting endeavors around their enclosures as well. Furthermore, the birds of Wanakia can use the trees as perches and as ground cover, thus adding to the degree of comfort while they are in care. A wide range of species enjoys and interacts with the trees, including the several owl residents currently calling the center home.

My family and I first heard of Wanakia in 2019, when they put the call out for discarded Christmas trees. We strapped our tree to the top of the car and drove around the neighborhood to grab several more that had been taken to the curb after a successful holiday season. I explained to my children that we would take these wonderful trees to some birds that could continue to use them! They “helped” us secure the trees and unload them in front of the garage once we arrived at the center. The Wanakia staff was so wonderful that they even gave us a bit of a private tour. Watching our “old” tree arrive safely into the enclosure of an animal in need was a great Christmas moment and one that we cannot wait to recreate this year! Please consider joining my family in passing along the holiday cheer by recycling your Christmas tree.

Wanakia Wildlife is located at 2233 Mayfield Road, Richfield, WI 53076.

They can be reached by phone at 414-803-0388.

Editor’s Note: Many local municipalities offer curbside Christmas Tree Recycling if you do not have the ability to bring your tree to Richfield. Contact your local DPW for details. 

Reader Tip: The City of Milwaukee picks up trees on the curbs and alley ways, however those go into the dump. Only trees brought to the recycling center get recycled. The Milwaukee recycling center does this for free. 

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Hi, I'm Sarah. My favorite humans call me “Mama”. I spent the last seven years responding to 911 calls and running into burning buildings. Now I tend to occupy my time with public health coordination projects, by advocating for children within the child welfare system, and providing emergency medical training to community members. You can generally find me doing something active outside or rearranging my house plants for the hundredth time. If you like kids, dogs, and chickens, come on over for a socially-distanced hang.


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