How to dispose of a Christmas tree – 4 eco-friendly ways to recycle

Don't put it in the trash when you can make good use of your old Christmas tree

A christmas tree beside a pile of cut trees
(Image credit: Alamy)

As Christmas comes to an end, trying to dispose of a real Christmas tree as it starts to decay is usually at the top of everyone's to-do list. 

While it is simple to wrestle your tree into your general trash for collection, there are plenty of ways to get rid of a real Christmas tree that are often easier, and much more environmentally friendly too. 

Here, we look at the four ways experts suggest you should get rid of your Christmas tree at the end of each season. 

How to dispose of a Christmas tree 

Your local sanitation service will collect your Christmas tree, usually after New Year's,  and failing that, there are usually drop-offs for used trees organized by the city or county, and often the place where you bought your tree will often take it back afterwards for recycling. However, these low-effort ways of disposing of a Christmas tree can be way more beneficial. Before you try them, ensure all the ornaments are removed, and that there is no chemical flocking spray on any part of the tree. 

1. Recycle your Christmas tree in your yard for wildlife

fat balls for birds

(Image credit: Alamy)

Recycling a Christmas tree in your yard is the easiest way to dispose of a Christmas tree while also supporting your wildlife garden. Start by using yours to help feed birds in winter.

'A real Christmas tree brings the magic of the festive season alive, filling your home with its fresh, woody fragrance. But when January rolls around, we often end up throwing the Christmas tree away. Instead, turn the tree trunk into a multi-perch bird feeder for your feathered friends,' suggests Sean McMenemy, garden wildlife expert and director of Ark Wildlife.

'All you need to do is cut the branches back to six inches from the trunk and hang treats such as fat balls or bird feeders from the stems. From peanut garlands to bird food-covered pine cones and juicy berries, it’ll make for a stunning garden centerpiece.

'You can also add some food around the tree base as when the ground is frozen, songbirds can’t dig up worms. Energy-rich bird food is designed for winter survival, so sprinkling some around the tree will give birds a huge boost.'

2. Turn it into mulch for borders

If you are a keen gardener, turning your Christmas tree into mulch is a great way to give back to your garden. You can do so like you would make a leaf mulch.

'You can often rent a wood chipper to convert your Christmas tree into fine chippings for mulch,' says Rachel Crow, garden editor for Homes & Gardens. 'Once chipped, leave in a cool dark place for a year before spreading over your garden and plants in winter to protect plants from harsh frosts.' 

3. Donate the tree to local wildlife sanctuaries

An unconventional solution, donating Christmas trees to local sanctuaries with wild animals can help keepers provide enrichment activities for animals for free, allowing them to spend money on much-needed food and supplies. 

'Get in touch with any local zoos or animal sanctuaries to inquire about donating your Christmas tree for the animal habitats. Big cats like lions and tigers will get endless enjoyment and fun from the trees,' explains the experts at Garden Buildings Direct. 'Make sure first to remove any ornaments and mistletoe before donating.' 

4. Replant a potted tree in your yard

If you have a potted Christmas tree, then replanting it in your yard can make a wonderful evergreen addition that you can use as an outdoor Christmas decoration for years to come. 

'A tree that has been kept inside for fewer than 12 days will often take better when moved outside than a tree that has been kept indoors throughout the season,' warns Rachel Crow. 

What's more, it is just as easy to keep a Christmas tree alive outside as it is indoors, making it a wonderful tree for a first-time gardener. 

What happens to unwanted Christmas trees?

Most unwanted Christmas trees don't go to waste but are recycled to create wood chippings or mulch to help in community areas such as parks and woodland to protect growth over winter. 

How do I dispose of a Christmas tree near me?

After Christmas, many local hardware or garden stores offer a Christmas tree drop off service if your area does not offer a local curb-side pickup. Hardware and garden stores will often recycle a Christmas tree to create mulch or wood chippings so that the tree doesn't go to waste. 

Is it safe to burn Christmas tree outside?

You must investigate local laws to check whether burning anything in your yard is allowed, though it is worth knowing that Christmas tree needles are toxic when burned, and therefore it is not recommended to burn yours at all. And because of these fumes and the creosote that can build up in your chimney or fireplace, you should never, ever burn a Christmas tree indoors. 

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.