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The most eco-friendly ways to dispose of a Christmas tree.

Last Updated: November 8, 2021

If this is your first time buying a real tree or you’re just wondering how to get rid of your annual tree in a way that’s better for the environment, here is a handy guide.

A fresh Christmas tree is a beautiful addition to holiday decor, but what happens when the holiday season comes to an end?

Each year, there are 25–30 million fresh Christmas trees sold around the U.S. Real trees are a renewable and recyclable resource, but getting rid of all those trees in a way that’s sustainable is very important.

If this is your first time buying a real Christmas tree or you’re just wondering how to get rid of your annual tree in a way that’s better for the environment, here is a handy guide to the most convenient and eco-friendly ways to dispose of Christmas trees at the end of the holiday season.

What is the best way to dispose of a Christmas tree?

The best way to dispose of a Christmas tree after the holidays is to recycle it.

Not sure where to recycle your Christmas tree? Many cities and counties have designated drop-off spots to recycle trees.

In fact, there are over 4,000 of these Christmas tree recycling programs across the U.S. You can check with your local municipality to find the designated recycling center to take your tree, or check with your trash collector to see if they have curbside pick up for trees for recycling.

Some local gardening and hardware stores may also hold tree recycling events.

How to get your Christmas tree ready to recycle:

  • Remove all ornaments, lights, and decorations.
  • Remove the tree from the stand.
  • Place the base of the tree in a trash bag to catch stray pine needles.
  • Sweep up loose needles, as they can easily clog a vacuum cleaner.

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Is an artificial Christmas tree more eco-friendly than a live tree?

Not necessarily. Americans purchase 10 million artificial trees each year, 90 percent of which are shipped from China, adding to global carbon emissions.

Most artificial trees can’t be recycled, so they end up in the landfill. If you have an artificial tree, use it for at least five years to help reduce its carbon footprint.

For a truly eco-friendly option, try these tips:

  • Rent a tree — try Googling "Christmas tree rentals" for options in your area, like Rent a Living Christmas Tree.
  • Buy a potted tree that you can plant after the holiday season.
  • Buy a long-lasting alternative made from sustainable materials or recycled plastic.
  • Decorate the plants you already have at home with festive lights.

For more eco-friendly holiday tips about trees, decor, wrapping, and food, browse our Guide to Sustainable Holidays.

Grove Tip

Donate your tree

Another good option for disposing of trees in an eco-friendly way is to donate them. Local zoos and wildlife reserves often look for old Christmas trees to use for feeding and other needs.

Additionally, Keep America Fishing recommends checking with your local wildlife authority for fishing spots where you’re permitted to sink the tree. Sunken trees can create natural underwater habitats and serve as new food sources for fish and other animals.

Is it okay to throw Christmas trees away?

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While there are a number of ways to get rid of a holiday tree, there are two options you should avoid whenever possible: throwing it away and burning it.

Landfills often lack the oxygen necessary for a tree to decompose fully and organically. Burning Christmas trees can release more carbon into the atmosphere. Some types of pine trees also have tars and oils that can coat chimneys if they’re burned indoors, which may increase the risk of accidental fires later on.

4 other eco-friendly ways to dispose of Christmas trees

If you can’t find a designated spot to recycle or donate your tree locally, there are some other ways to reuse it.

1. Make mulch and compost

Pine trees are full of nutrients that can help balance soil PH levels and add nutrients to your yard, flower beds, or garden.

Remove the needles from the tree, mist with water, and work into soil where desired. Then, cut branches into small pieces and add them to the compost pile.

If it’s possible to shred the tree, the resulting saw dust will break down in compost even faster.

2. Use it for garden insulation

Limbs can be broken off of Christmas trees and used as covering for plants during the winter.

These branches will help provide natural insulation and add nutrients to the soil as they break down over the season.

3. Craft with it

Christmas trees can be upcycled into simple crafts and gifts. If needles are still green, strip them and store them in paper bags to use as natural air fresheners.

You can also slice the tree trunk into 1-inch thick slices and varnish the slices to use as coasters.

To make natural garden stakes and barriers, simply strip the needles, branches, and bark from the tree trunk.

4. Return it to nature

If you bought a live tree with roots, you can permanently replant it in your yard.

If you bought a cut tree, consider securing the tree in a spot in the yard to serve as a temporary shelter for animals as it breaks down over the winter.

You can even add bird feeders to attract local birds and turn it into a mini cold weather bird sanctuary.

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