Sustainable Christmas Tree Disposal Ideas

Sustainable Christmas Tree Disposal Ideas

Man prunes live Christmas trees on a tree farm

Buying a real Christmas tree can be a great sustainable way to deck the halls and bring home some holiday cheer. Not only are trees powerful tools for absorbing and storing carbon, they also filter other pollutants in our air and water and provide important habitat for wildlife. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, for every Christmas tree harvested, one to three new seedlings are planted to ensure consistent supplies for upcoming years. This means, by purchasing from a local tree farm, not only are you helping to support local agriculture and forestry, you are also supporting the planting of more trees. 

But sustainability doesn't stop there. When the holidays are over and it's time to take the tinsel down, there are multiple sustainable options for disposing of your tree. Read on for some ideas of how to recycle your real tree, what to do with an artificial tree that's past its prime, as well as some tips on what to avoid.

A pile of used Christmas trees waiting to be recycled at a drop off center
Photo credit: Mike Mahaffie, flickr

Real Christmas Trees 

For all of these options, make sure to first remove all decorations, hooks, garland, and tinsel strands. 

Recycle it into mulch 

Turning your tree into mulch has the added benefit of allowing the carbon stored in the tree to return to the soil to provide nutrients. Many local municipalities, landfills, and some mulch companies offer tree recycling programs—check Earth911's searchable database to find tree recycling programs in your area. If you are adventurous, you can rent a mulcher from your local hardware store to make your own. For those who live in Chester County, the Lanchester and SECCRA landfills both accept Christmas trees, which they recycle into compost.  

Compost it  

Cut up your Christmas tree into small pieces and add this as a woody layer to your compost pile. Larger pieces can be used as the base for raised beds or to line your garden.  

A cedar waxwing rests on the branch of a Christmas tree
A cedar waxwing rests on the branch of a Christmas tree. Photo credit: Jllm06, via Wikimedia Commons

Turn it into habitat for wildlife 

Put the tree in your backyard or garden and use it as a bird feeder and wildlife refuge. Add suet, orange slices, or your leftover popcorn garland to attract birds, squirrels, and other critters.   

Choose a tree that can be replanted

Some tree farms offer options to purchase or rent potted Christmas trees that can be replanted once the holiday season is over. Check with your local tree farm to see if this options is available.  

Closeup shot of an artificial Christmas tree with a large red ornament in the center
Photo credit: Gene Ellison, flickr

Artificial Christmas Trees  

Reuse your tree year after year 

Since artificial trees are typically made with petroleum and aluminum based products, these trees cannot be disposed of naturally, so do your best to reuse these trees year after year.  

Donate it 

Check with local thrift and charity stores to see if they accept artificial Christmas trees, or try local community organizations that could use them for decoration. Another option is to post on your local community or Facebook page to see if others could use it.  

Repurpose it 

Give it new life by getting crafty and repurposing the branches into holiday wreathes, garlands, centerpieces, or other holiday décor.   

a Christmas tree gets thrown onto a bonfire
Burning Christmas trees releases the carbon that was stored back into the atmosphere and should be avoided. Photo credit: Scott Beale, flickr

Things to Avoid  

Sending it to a landfill 

Although real Christmas trees are biodegradable, most landfills store waste underground where there is limited oxygen and the tree can not properly biodegrade.    

Burning it 

Christmas trees contain flammable oils that can coat your chimney and increase the risk of house fires. Burning it also releases the carbon that was stored back into the atmosphere and should be avoided. 

Additional Resources  

Header Image: Madereugeneandrew at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons