How to Sustainably Disposal of a Christmas Tree

How to sustainably dispose of a Christmas Tree

You’ve successfully celebrated the wee little saviour’s birth and now it’s time to sweep clean in preperation for the return to work or school. For us that mean undecorating the house and giving it a clean. Decorations will be safely packed away for reused next year (very sustainable) and our Christmas Tree will be disposed of as sustainably as possible. If you don’t know how to do that, read on, because in this article I’m going to run through the most sustainable ways to deal with Christmas trees, real and plastic, so you can start 2022 with a clear concience.

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Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash

If your tree is plastic then the most sustainable option is to reuse it next year, and the year after and the year after that. If for some reason that’s not possible then rehome it to someone who will.

It goes without saying that if you’re thinking of buying a Christmas tree for next year then buy second-hand, and aim to get one that is the least likely to break.

For cut trees you want to ensure that they get reused, eated or composted, in that order.

Reused – You could put the tree out in your garden for local birds to perch on. It’s particularly useful near bird feeders as small birds need shelter when waiting their turn to access the feeders.

Similarly people with aviaries have been know to take Christmas trees for their birds to perch on, and in the past some Zoo’s took Christmas trees for their big cats to play with. You

You can also chip them in a shredder and use the chippings on natural pathways in a garden.

We convert the trunk of our Christmas trees into insect hotels by drilling holes down the length of it, and placing it vertically in a sunny, but sheltered spot.

I’ve also been told that the truck can be converted into beautiful coasters / trivets.

Some people like to use some of the pine needles to scent vinegar or other cleaning liquids to use in their home. Just steep the needles in your liquid of choice for a few weeks, strain and use as normal.

If you bought a potted tree then check to see if is a variety that will suit staying in a pot or one that needs to be planted out into the ground. If it’s the latter but you don’t have space in your own gardent then find a local landowner that might like it or try and donate it to a Christmas Tree farmer for them to resell next year.

If your potted tree will like living in a pot then locate it somewhere in your garden where it won’t dry out in the summer. It is a good idea to check if it needs to be potted on in the spring and if not at least give it a top dressing of ericacous compost to help feed it.

Before you bring any living plant back outside it’s important to ‘harden it off’, which involves bring it outside for a few hours a day over a week, slowly building up the amount of time it stays outside

Eat – A few animal sanctuaries feed Christmas trees to their residents. With one donkey sanctaury in Belfast already putting the call out for them on social media

Compost – Christmas trees are a valuable source of nutrients and minerals particularly for ericacous plants.

We cut the branches off our tree and put them in a designated compost bin (which I got free from a freecycle page), water them and leave them until next January. Then we need to add this year’s tree we spread the (slightly) decomposted mulch under our acid-loving plants to give them the minerals and PH level they love.

If you’ve the space you can leave the needles to compost over a few more years and make your own ericacous compost. Or if you don’t even have space for a compost bin you could just put the freshly cut branches directly under your acid-loving plants, making sure to keep them back from any stems in order to avoid causing rot.

Council Composting – Most local authorities offer a Christmas Tree drop off service the week after Christmas. Trees dropped off at designated points will be sent for composting in industrial facilities designed to compost organic material over a shorter time period. The resulting compost is sold back to the council and individual gardeners by the composting companies.

Whatever you do don’t leave on the side of the road to decompose. Outside of a compost heap this will take years and could be a traffic hazard on windy days.

Also don’t put real Christmas trees into your black bin. Any organic matter that goes to landfill is food for bacteria, which produces a potent green house gas called methane as they break it down. This gas is approximately 30 times more damaging than carbon dioxide when it comes to climate change so we need to avoid making it whenever we can.

In case you’re tempted to burn your Christmas tree, just remembers that burning something releases all of the carbon that was locked up in it, which contributes to the climate crisis. Also the sap in timber that isn’t dried out can coat your flue or chimney leading to chimeny fires. Of course if you’re allowing your Christmas tree to dry out fully before burning it, and in doing so you avoid using fossil fuels like oil, coal or gas it would be a sustainable option.


PS – You might also be interested in my post on How to Use up Christmas Leftovers

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

4 thoughts on “How to Sustainably Disposal of a Christmas Tree

  1. Hi there, lovely article. A comment on your comment about not burning the tree. We do dry it and burn it after the season and it’s a great alternative. The branches are great fire lighters!

    I realize the article might be a bit Dublin centric. In “the country” most houses are heated with oil. Using a wood boiler stove (that heats all the radiators) in the house is a much sustainable alternative than burning fossil fuels, if you choose local, seasoned wood from well managed forests.


    1. I agree that burning wood from sustainable forest is a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. I suppose I was thinking of someone burning it in addition to using heating. I’ll clarify that in the article. Thanks for the comment


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