Updated: Jul 28, 2022
After Christmas is over, and you're ready to take your Christmas tree down, what's next? Keep the Christmas tree lifecycle sustainable by recycling or reusing your Christmas Tree. For starters, don’t throw your real Christmas tree in the trash (it's illegal in Vermont). Real Christmas trees are biodegradable, which means they can be easily reused or recycled for mulch, animal food, and many other purposes.
Why is it important to recycle your Christmas tree? Unlike a plastic tree, real Christmas trees are a renewable resource. They are carbon neutral and create biodegradable waste. However, when put in a landfill, trees breakdown slowly. The nutrients they could return to soils get mixed with plastics and other materials that don't break down. This prevents the tree's nutrients from getting returned to soils for a long time. Biodegradable waste also takes up unnecessary room in landfills.
In Vermont, Christmas trees are considered "clean wood," and cannot be put in a landfill. Your tree can go to any clean wood disposal site in the state. Clean wood includes brush or trees over 1" in in diameter, and must have no metal, plastic or any decorations of any kind. Visit your town's Solid Waste Management District website for more information about what clean wood means and where to bring it.
There's a variety of ways you can repurpose your tree to keep it out of the landfill. These ideas continue the sustainable life cycle of a Christmas tree by either providing habitat for animals or nutrients to soil. If your town doesn't provide tree recycling services, you can repurpose your tree at home using any of the ideas below. Know of another way to recycle your tree? Please share in the comments.
1. Mulch Your Tree
Turn your Christmas tree into mulch. The town of Middlebury, VT has a curbside pickup service that takes Christmas trees every January, chips them, and then provides free mulch to town residents in spring. Your town may have a similar service. You can turn your own tree into mulch by using hand clippers to clip the branches into small pieces. Since pine needles dry quickly and decompose slowly, you can use them as mold free mulch in your garden.
2. Repurpose your tree as wildlife habitat.
If you have a wilder place on your property, leave your tree lying on the ground to provide shelter for smaller animals such as rabbits, and food for deer. The tree will breakdown over time and its nutrients will return to the soil.
3. Use the trunk as firewood.
Use a handsaw to cut the trunk into appropriate sized pieces. Let the pieces dry until next fall, then enjoy them in your next backyard campfire. (Christmas trees have a lot of sap in them, and so are best burned outside to prevent creosote build-up in your chimney). The ashes can be added to your compost pile or garden.
4. Turn your tree into a bird feeder.
Enjoy your Christmas tree outside for the rest of winter as a bird feeder. Move your tree and stand outside, and hang bird food on the branches- orange slices, popcorn and cranberry strands, and handmade birdseed ornaments. Try rolling pinecones in peanut butter and birdseed for quick and easy ornaments. Replace ornaments as they get eaten.
5. Feed some goats.
Many goat farms accept old Christmas trees as food and entertainment for their animals. Goats enjoy snacking on the green branches when most other plants are covered in snow. Much like town mulch programs, trees brought to goat farms must have all ornaments, tinsel, and lights removed. It's very important to make trees donated as goat food have not been sprayed with fire retardants, flocking, or pesticides. We never spray our trees: if you purchased your tree somewhere else, check with your local tree farm or supplier before donating your tree to a goat farm.
6. Turn the branches into decorations.
Tie whole branches together with ribbon, then hang on doors to transition your decorations from Christmas to winter.
7. Get crafty with the trunk.
Cut the Christmas tree trunk into small slices. Dry and seal with a wood sealer. These can be turned into coasters, ornaments for next year's Christmas tree, or other decor projects.
8. Make balsam sachets.
Use the needles to make balsam air fresheners. Small sachets can freshen drawers.
9. Build plant supports for your garden.
Cut off branches and tie them together to create a pea trellis. The smaller branches that come off from main branches give pea tendrils many places to grab on to for support.
10. Create fish habitat.
Some towns offer pond recycling for Christmas trees. You can also do this in your own pond. A whole Christmas tree can be sunk in a pond to provide habitat and nutrients for fish.