Once the Christmas lights are switched off for the last time and the decorations have been safely stored away until next year, what should you do with your tree? Here’s our guide on discarding your Christmas tree sustainably.
While the debate over how early is too early to put your Christmas tree up rages on for much of November, there is a general consensus that come the 6th of January (or the day after Twelfth night) traditionally most people will have taken down their tree. But what you then do with it will differ depending on whether you have invested in a real or an artificial tree, but neither of which should simply been thrown in the rubbish to be sent to landfill if it can be at all avoided. A huge 250 tonnes of Christmas trees thrown away each year in the UK alone, over what is already an incredibly waste-inducing period. To spare your tree from landfill and help reduce the strain on the planet, here are some ways to recycle, reuse and repurpose your Christmas tree:
If you rented your potted Christmas tree this year, then simply return to the shop you rented it from or arrange for a collection, so that it can be cared for and rented out again next year. But if you bought your real tree, here are some ideas for how to dispose of it sustainably:
Pot-grown trees can be re-planted in the garden or re-potted as they grow to enjoy for years to come – you can even provide a new shelter for wildlife by encouraging birds with an added bird feeder. If you choose to keep your tree in a pot, then you can also bring it indoors again next Christmas.
Christmas trees can be recycled into compost or chippings for local parks or woodland areas. Many local councils offer a tree collection service on certain days after Christmas – check your local council website or contact them for details of how it works in your area. If your council doesn’t offer this service, you can drop your Christmas tree at a local recycling centre. See recyclenow.com
You can also arrange for collection via JustHelping, a UK charity that aims to inspire and support people, businesses, charities and other organisations to contribute to their community. For its tree collections, the charity works in close partnerships with hospices and other charities to engage a large number of community volunteers. Find out more and register a tree for collection here charityxmastreecollection.com
Use for Firewood
Safely cut up and burn your Christmas tree – use as firewood indoors if you have a working fireplace, or have a bonfire in the garden. According to the Carbon Trust, burning your Christmas tree has a much lower (up to 80% less) carbon footprint than if your tree ends up in landfill. This is because as the tree decomposes it produces methane gas, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that is released when you burn the tree.
First of all, before discarding your artificial tree, consider that artificial trees are usually made from a combination of oil-based plastic materials and cannot be recycled. For a typical artificial Christmas tree, approximately a quarter of its carbon footprint comes from the emissions produced during manufacturing, and you would need to reuse your tree for at least 10 Christmases to keep its environmental footprint lower than that of a real tree. That said, of course it’s not always possible to keep your tree forever as personal circumstances and tastes change, so if you do need to dispose of your artificial tree, try one of the following options:
Keep hold of your artificial tree for as long as you can, storing it away after Christmas in your loft, cupboard under the stairs, or garage.
If you’re tree is still in a usable condition, donate it to a charity shop, sell at a bootsale or second-hand marketplace, or give it away to friends or family so that it can continue to bring Christmas joy for more years to come.
If your tree is no longer in a usable condition, you can try repurposing it by cutting the branches apart using wire cutters and creating festive garlands and wreaths to decorate your home next year.
For more tips to reduce waste at home, see our guide on how to reduce food waste and our easy zero-waste swaps for families.