How to Recycle Your Christmas Tree—and Why You Really Should

When the holiday season is over, do you plan on recycling your Christmas tree? Many people leave their tree on the curb to be hauled off by the trash collector, but that doesn’t mean it will automatically be recycled.

“It’s important for people to recycle their Christmas trees to prevent them from going into the landfill,” says Kevin Haseney, district commander at JDog Junk Removal & Hauling in Tampa, FL.

Christmas trees—the real ones, anyway—are naturally biodegradable and can be repurposed for mulch and other materials that benefit the environment.

“Cutting down and transporting Christmas trees requires time, energy, money, and fuel, so it’s not always the most environmentally friendly process on the front end,” says Isaac Weins, owner of JDog Junk Removal & Hauling in Menomonee Falls, WI.

When trees are properly recycled, Weins says, they have plenty of environmentally friendly uses after their holiday life cycle.

So do the right thing and put forth the extra effort!

How are recycled Christmas trees used?

So how can Christmas trees be repurposed? According to Susan Brandt, co-founder of the Blooming Secrets gardening website, Christmas trees can be shredded and chipped down for use as soil erosion barriers or natural path material on hiking trails.

Christmas tree chips can also be used in gardens as mulch, which helps retain moisture in the soil, keep weeds out, and improve the overall appearance.

And there’s some unusual repurposing, too.

“Some zoos recycle trees and put them in enclosures with animals to play with,” says Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. “So you’ll see lions playing with a Christmas tree like it’s a toy or using it as a scratching post.” Fun!

How to recycle a Christmas tree

Your recycling options vary based on where you live. Some cities have drop-off facilities, while others will pick up your tree. The first step is to check with your local municipality or search online for “Christmas tree recycling in [your city],” Brandt says.

“If it is offered, they usually have a location where you take your tree, or they’ll offer specific dates you can place it outside your home for pickup,” she adds.

In most U.S. cities, your local dump or transfer station will accept Christmas trees for its own recycling program, according to Miranda Benson with Dolly, an on-demand service that connects local pickup truck owners with people who need to move heavy items.

“Cities that have a designated composting program tend to recycle their trees, turn them into mulch, or add them to a compost pile,” she says.

Cities that don’t have recycling programs may partner with local nurseries to compost or mulch the trees. Just make sure you know exactly where your tree is going.

“Unfortunately, some cities dump the trees in a landfill like any other trash,” Benson says.

Prepping your tree for recycling

Most recycling centers will accept trees only if they are in a certain condition.

“In most cases, you will need to remove all tinsel, lighting, and all other nonorganic material,” says Dave Green, a vice president at Agromin, an organic material composter in California.

“In some areas, flocking material must be made out of a natural paper product to be recyclable,” Green says.

If the tree has been sprayed with any chemicals, it can’t be recycled.

“For example, if you’ve sprayed fake frost on your tree or painted it, those trees are likely not going to be recyclable,” says Haseney. “However, some paint is biodegradable, so double-check before you decide to throw your tree in a landfill.”

Ways to use recycled Christmas trees at home

Composting your Christmas tree for your yard at home is a challenge, but it’s not impossible.

“It would be difficult for homeowners to compost their own tree because it involves running the trunk and limbs through a chipper and then mixing the wood chips with other organic material,” Green says.

But if you have access to a wood chipper (from either a particularly handy neighbor or an equipment rental store like Home Depot), you can spread some of that Christmas cheer—right onto your garden.