A number of years ago, much to the dismay of our kids, Amy and I made the decision to switch from live Christmas trees to an artificial tree. We were tired of the needles and the mess that came along with a live tree, and since neither one of them ever lifted even a finger to help with clean-up and/or removal, we made the move and have never looked back. At the end of the season, our tree is dis-assembled, boxed, and returned to its home for 11 months out of the year--the attic.

Even though our offspring still complain (falling on the deafest of deaf ears), we love it for the simplicity. The tree is pre-lit with over 1500 lights, and it looks good from every angle. Plus, there's no watering or needle spillage, and absolutely zero creepy-crawlies have creepily crawled out of it. And, unlike the previous live trees we've brought home, our cat has no interest whatsoever in climbing the "fake" tree, preferring to nap underneath it.

However, if you're the sort of family that my children would rather live with, you have (what once was) a live tree, and now that the holidays are over, it's time to get rid of it.

That's where Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful's (KNIB) tree recycling program comes into play. For more years than I care to count, KNIB has set up Christmas tree recycling centers around the stateline area. All you need to participate is a real Christmas tree. Now, you do have to remove all the lights and ornaments before drop off, but that's really the only catch.

The dropped-off trees will be run through a wood chipper and turned into pine mulch, which is then made available for the low, low, price of free. Since 1988, KNIB has processed over 750,000 trees, and produced tons of free pine mulch. Pine mulch is excellent for landscaping near acid-loving plants such as roses, lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and evergreens. Other uses include ground cover for walkways and fence rows.

Bottom line: you better hurry, because this Sunday, January 15th, is the final drop-off day, with the mulch being ready to be picked up starting the next day, until it's all gone.

For more information, and a list of the 13 drop-off locations, click here.

It's a lot less involved than disposing of your tree like this woman does: