‘Tis the season, and if you’re anything like me you’ll have been out in the forest December 1st with a big old saw to get a Christmas tree. Living in British Columbia, Canada, I have the glorious option of obtaining a permit from the Queen to chop down my own tree for free on Crown land. Sadly, the Queen has nothing to say on how best to deal with your tree after Christmas. As such, here are some eco-friendly Christmas tree disposal options you might want to consider, however you acquired your own tree.
The most important thing to consider here is that the average Christmas tree represents around 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. Keeping this greenhouse gas locked into the wood is the best option for responsible Christmas tree disposal. So, how can you dispose of your tree responsibly?
Check for free tree pick-up!
The most eco-friendly Christmas tree disposal strategy is also one of the simplest options. Many cities and towns offer free pick-up for Christmas trees in January, and public works employees then mulch these trees and use the mulch for landscaping. All that carbon and other nutrients go back into the soil and help keep your town or city looking and smelling great.
Check your city council’s website for curb-side pick-up dates or give them a call. Just be sure to remove all ornaments first and follow instructions as to how, where, and when to leave the tree outside.
Coordinate a tree drop-off
Christmas tree mulching can be a fun thing to do with the kids in early January. Check locally to see if there’s a designated time and place for mulching near you. You might see this in a grocery store parking lot, or at a Home Depot or a Public Works site.
And, rather than making a special trip to drop-off your tree, combine this with other errands nearby. Or, better yet, talk to your neighbors to coordinate a single drop-off and help keep mileage to a minimum. Many Home Depots across the US also recycle Christmas trees, so give them a call.
Throw it in the forest
OK, so I’m being a little glib here. I don’t mean you should hoist your tree out of the window as you drive down the highway. But, if you live in a more rural setting and don’t have city pick-up or a handy drop-off location, consider housing your tree in your back garden or returning it to the forest from whence it came.
Trees are (surprise!) biodegradable in their natural habitat. They’re also a great home for animals and bugs and provide nutrients for saplings and other plants. Just be sure to follow any park or forest rules and don’t dump your tree in or near a waterway or ecologically sensitive area. Your best bet is to take it right back to the spot you chopped it down and leave it there. That way, you can be sure you’re not introducing an interloper species to a new area.
Donate the tree to a local environmental organization
In some places, including in BC where I live, we have local organizations who take on the task of restoring and maintaining river ecosystems. These groups can use trees to shore up river banks and prevent erosion. Trees also help provide ecological habitat for fish, amphibians, and other animals.
Check with local environmental groups to see if anyone can use your tree this year.
Take your tree to the zoo (or animal sanctuary)
Perhaps the only reason I’ll ever suggest anyone go to an actual zoo is to drop off a Christmas tree. Why? Because it’s not just housecats who like to play with Christmas trees, big cats do too. Lions and tigers love Christmas trees and it probably provides them a bit of annual excitement in their otherwise pretty dreary sad lives.
Call the zoo (or animal sanctuary) first, to avoid rocking up with a giant tree they can’t use. Oh, and be absolutely sure you’ve removed all ornaments and anything like mistletoe (which can be poisonous to some animals).
What not to do with your Christmas tree
If you want to make Santa’s naughty list, you’ll burn your tree or send it to landfill. Yep. These are two of the worst things you can do with a Christmas tree. Burning the tree releases all that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the tree’s natural oils will also mess up your chimney and fireplace.
As for landfill, while trees are biodegradable, they don’t just break down naturally when buried in a mountain of trash. Instead, bacteria in landfill will work away at the tree and produce methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Eco-friendly Christmas tree options
In summary, then, your best options for eco-friendly Christmas tree disposal are:
- Check your municipal pick-up date and be ready!
- Take your tree and your neighbors’ trees to get mulched
- Let your tree biodegrade in the backyard or forest and provide natural habitat
- Donate the tree to a local stream keeper organization
- Donate your tree to the zoo or animal sanctuary.
And, if the effort of Christmas tree disposal feels too much, consider getting a live tree next year. I did this a couple of times when I lived in small apartments in the UK, and I arranged to donate the two-foot potted trees to a local landscaper for ‘rehoming’ in the new year.
One final thing. I’d remiss if I didn’t point out the most obvious way to entirely avoid this whole disposal issue: get an artificial tree. Sure, they’re made of plastic and don’t have that wonderful natural tree smell, but they’re arguably more eco-friendly.
According to Popular Science magazine, producing an artificial Christmas tree produces about 40 pounds of carbon dioxide (compared to around 20 pounds for each fresh tree annually). Most such trees can last at least five years, if not twenty or more. As is often the way, frugal folks who reuse the same tree year after year are already doing their bit for the environment.
And, while buying a natural tree might seem like the most environmentally friendly option, most of the 27 million such Christmas trees bought each year in the US come from tree farms. These farms encourage irresponsible short-term reforestation and may rely on the removal of old growth forest for short-term profit (and with it a loss of biodiversity, increased fire risk, and other adverse effects).
So, if you find Christmas tree disposal a hassle and are looking for an eco-friendly option for an artificial tree you can reuse each year, consider a Christmas tree made from recycled plastic (but check it’s lead-free), like this one from Oncor.