Go green on December 26—or whenever you take down your decorations—by recycling your Christmas tree. It’s easier than you might think!

By Karla Walsh
Updated December 02, 2020
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We’re calling it: 2020 is set to be the greenest holiday to date. Well, at least in recent memory. Recycled decor is one of our top seven Christmas trends of the year, and we’re already having conversations about how to recycle our Christmas trees (while we enjoy its beauty, of course). That’s right: You can recycle your live tree. In fact, there are 4,000+ local tree recycling programs across the country, reports the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA). Good thing, because about 30 million live trees are sold in America each year. Sure, they're biodegradable, but the truth is, it will take years for whole trees to break down in a landfill. That's because they need oxygen to decompose, but they'll get packed in so tightly and buried with other garbage that little air will reach them. If you’re not going green already, add to the ranks of Christmas tree recyclers by following these nine tips and tricks for how to recycle your Christmas tree this year.

1. Protect Your Plants

Your garden plants might need a little extra protection from winter's cold. Cut off the branches of your recycled Christmas tree and place them around your plants. They can serve as insulation for plants that might need some extra warmth.

2. Chip Into Mulch

When your tree starts to get brittle, it can be chipped into mulch. Check with a neighbor who has a chipper or contact your city. More towns and cities are providing drop-off sites to collect trees for recycling into mulch. The mulch is valuable organic material that can be used to conserve soil moisture, so it can help make your garden even more beautiful in the spring.

3. Find a Recycling Program

In many cities, you can simply set your Christmas tree out as part of your curbside recycling program. The catch is that there are often time limits for when you can recycle your tree alongside your milk jugs and newspapers—often it is a day or two in the two weeks after December 25. To recycle your Christmas tree, make sure to remove all decorations, tinsel, lights, and other ornaments, and if you wrap it in a plastic bag to take it outside, make sure you remove the bag before leaving your tree for pick-up. Avoid using flocking spray on your tree—it can't be recycled. 

Check out the recycling search directory on Earth911 for more details about Christmas tree recycling near you, or contact a recycling facility near you for more specifics. The Home Depot also recycles live trees for free. Through The Home Depot Christmas tree recycling program, you can drop off your tree at your local store after Christmas, and then they'll chip it into mulch.

4. Or Seek Out a Non-Profit Pickup

Certain communities allow non-profit organizations (such as scout troops) to raise money by picking up trees, the NCTA explains. Search “Non-profit Christmas tree pick-up in [your city name here]” to see if you can support two great causes—the environment and the local charity—all at once. Whether picked up by the recycling crew or by a non-profit, the trees eventually make their way to a recycling facility. There, they are most often run through a chipper, shredded into mulch, or thrown into ponds, lakes, or rivers to feed and shelter fish.

5. Help a Pond, Lake, or Local Farmer

Submerged trees become a fish feeding refuge. If you have a large fishpond or live in a neighborhood with a large lake, check with local homeowner associations to arrange for submerging trees. Trees also can be used as soil erosion barriers, particularly along shorelines. Check locally to see if there's a body of water near you that uses recycled Christmas trees in this way.

And while it's a little less conventional, you can also turn your Christmas tree into a snack for goats. In the past few years, several farmers and petting zoos around the country have accepted live Christmas tree donations after the holidays for their animals. Goats will eat almost anything, and a group of them will strip the needles and bark right off a Christmas tree in no time. Again, check your local area to see if any farmers near you are taking live Christmas trees for their herd.

6. Burn It Outdoors

While it might be tempting to burn a Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove indoors, don't. It can cause a buildup of creosote, which is highly flammable and can let a fire quickly get out of hand. Some cities allow burning trees in outdoor fire pits. Check your local ordinances and always cut the tree into smaller pieces (a dried-out Christmas tree can burn very quickly), adding bits of material at a time to help keep the fire from getting out of control.

7. If All Else Fails, Use the Tree for Crafts

If no local pick-up options are available (or if you missed the window), you can still recycle your Christmas tree all on your own. It’ll just require a bit more DIY action. Carefully chop the trunk into firewood or saw off clean slices for coasters or unique art “canvases.” Are you the composting kind? Feel free to toss the branches and trunk into the mix—these parts break down well and act as a great base for your compost pile. Want to speed up the process? Chop the wood into smaller pieces and they’ll compost quicker. Just be sure to remove the needles first, as they slow the breakdown.

8. Get a Tree You Can Plant After the Holidays

You'll need to pre-plan a little more before the holidays, but you can usually find Christmas trees with the root ball still attached that you can plant in your yard after the holidays. We'd recommend digging a hole in the fall when the ground's softer, then look for a potted Christmas tree or one with a burlap-wrapped root ball. You can bring it indoors and decorate for Christmas like normal, then take it outside and plant it once the lights and colorful ornaments ($15, Target) come down. With proper care, you can enjoy your tree for years!

9. Own an Artificial Tree That You’re Done With? Donate It.

Wondering how to recycle a fake Christmas tree? Artificial Christmas trees are almost always made with non-biodegradable plastic, so you can’t recycle them. Instead, donate them to a resale or second-hand shop. The best time to do so is October or November, just prior to the holiday decor season, so they don’t have to store them for months before displaying on the shop floor.

Any of these Christmas tree recycling methods is better than seeing your holiday decorations end up in the landfill. If you know you want a real tree but don't want to deal with the hassle of recycling afterward, you can also rent Christmas trees and return them to the nursery after celebrating. No matter how you choose to do it, you can use your real tree to help the environment this year, and you'll barely have to lift a finger to do it.

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