Recycle or Upcycle Your Christmas Tree

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Christmas tree close up

image: rfduck

What to do with your Christmas tree after it’s served its purpose is as big a dilemma as what kind to buy. Both decisions should be based partially on environmental impact. We shouldn’t be filling landfills with plant matter that will naturally decompose if left to the elements. Neither do we need to be dumping them on the side of the road for lack of any better ideas for disposal!

How Not to Decorate

Recycling your tree starts in the decorating phase. Do not use tinsel on it! Plastic will not biodegrade when the tree does. Tinsel will actually turn into millions of tiny pieces of plastic that will persist in the environment for decades or hundreds of years. So skip the plastic when you are decking out your tree.

Also, do not use flocking, the white spray that imitates snow. This is not biodegradable, and your tree will have to go to the landfill. Use ornamentation that can be completely removed.

Recycle It

In many communities, the city will pick up trees when they collect trash. They will turn them into mulch to be used in urban plantings or on walking paths in parks. Check with your municipality to see if they offer this service. If your city has a recycling center, they may accept trees, too.

Find someone with a wood chipper who can turn it into mulch for your own use. Maybe you can get together with your neighbors and rent a wood chipper for a day. People may or may not want to keep their shredded tree, but they might like the idea of keeping it out of the landfill. There might also be a landscaping business that collects trees to chip as mulch.

Toss your tree on your brush pile. This is excellent wildlife habitat. Make arrangements with neighbors and friends to collect theirs to use. There are a lot of people looking for a place to put their tree right now! If you have the space, get the word out, and create shelter for birds, snakes, rabbits, rodents and a host of other wildlife.

If you have a pond or know someone who does, drop your tree in it. Fish and other aquatic life will use it for shelter and nutrients.

Whole trees can be used for erosion control. If you live near the ocean or some sand dunes, find out if you can donate your tree to whatever agency manages it.

Upcycle It

Prop up your tree in your yard for shelter and a perching spot for the birds. They love snags (dead trees) as resting spots. Hang feeders and suet on the branches. I have speared orange slices on dead Christmas tree branches. Turn yours into a favorite bird eatery!

I have also used dead Christmas trees as trellises in the garden. They are natural and add visual interest. They are also free! Trellising vegetables is an effective way to use garden space, and it keeps the fruit off the ground, which reduces the chance of disease. Vining ornamentals can go on a trellis to be used as a privacy screen or a focal point. Instead of buying a trellis, upcycle your tree into one!

Next Year’s Tree

Now is the time to think about buying next year’s tree. The most environmentally friendly tree is a live tree with a root ball on it. It stays in a large pot outside, until you bring it in to decorate it. It has to go back out in the cold after a week, though, so plan on that. When the weather warms up, it gets planted in the yard. If you buy a live tree each year, you will have a sort of scrapbook of Christmas memories to look at year round.

Have a healthy, happy and environmentally friendly New Year!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.