It’s Christmastime, but it doesn’t really feel like the holiday season until you’ve put up your Christmas tree. If you prefer a live tree, you’re in good company: According to the National Christmas Tree Association, nearly 21 million trees were purchased for last year’s holiday season.

Alas, what comes up must come down, and that includes your tree. But that doesn’t mean that your tree’s useful life is over. One of the best things about fresh-cut Christmas trees is that they are biodegradable. As they decompose naturally, they can serve many different uses. They can be composted into soil, chipped for mulch or used for habitat restoration in forests, sand dunes and lakes. Whatever future is in-store for your holiday tree, make sure it doesn’t include the landfill.

If you’re looking for ways to minimize your holiday carbon footprint, one good place to start is by making an environmentally friendly plan to dispose of your tree. Here are a few suggestions to make your post-holiday cleanup more sustainable.

Prepare for Recycling 

The difference between recycling your Christmas tree and sending it to the dump is significant. When live trees are sent to the landfill, their carbon footprint increases many times over. This year, celebrate sustainably and make a plan to avoid the landfill. Here are a few things to consider as you prepare.

  • If you decorated a real Christmas tree with roots this year, either in a container or balled and burlapped, make plans to transition it successfully to your landscape.
  • If you plan to recycle your tree, avoid materials like flocking spray in your holiday decorations. The chemical makeup of most of those sprays can make trees un-recyclable.
  • Before recycling, mulching or composting your tree, remove all Christmas ornaments, tinsel and garland.
  • Very large trees – greater than 7’ – may need to be cut down to a specified size. Check the requirements for the drop-off program you select.

How to Recycle or Avoid the Landfill

Recycling resources for holiday trees vary across the country and are usually a service of local municipalities. But regardless of where you live, you should have options for disposing of your tree without sending it to the landfill.

  • If you live in an area where local pickup is offered, your provider may offer certain dates where your tree can be picked up for recycling or mulching. That said, it’s not a given that trees left on the curb won’t wind up in a landfill. Be sure to check with your local agency beforehand.
  • In rural areas where pickup is not an option, local providers will often establish drop-off locations where trees are collected for recycling, mulching, composting or use in habitat restoration. The same is true for many residential and urban areas. In such cases, the service is usually free and includes a certain number of trees per household.
  • Another option to consider is local nonprofit groups. Many will supplement local services with charity pickups. Consider local Boy Scout troops, churches and schools as resources that may offer pickup appointments in exchange for a charitable donation.
  • If you aren’t able to locate a resource in your area, contact your local Home Depot for more information about recycling trees in your area.

What to Do if You Can’t Recycle 

While tree recycling is a great way to say goodbye to the season, in some areas, it simply isn’t possible. If you can’t recycle your tree, we’ve got a few ideas to help you avoid the landfill.

  • Chip and Mulch: Use your old Christmas tree to make your own mulch. Rent or buy a woodchipper to process the tree. Store the mulch and age for at least one year before using. If gardening is popular in your neighborhood, this is a good community project. Designate a day for tree mulching and allow everyone who participates to take a share of the mulch.
  • Erosion Barriers: In some communities, discarded trees are kept intact and used to stabilize beaches and shorelines.
  • Feeding Fish: Trees can be sunk into ponds to make a feeding area for fish. Use this on your own property or check with your community and find out if the city collects trees for this purpose.
  • Feeding Birds: Place the tree in your backyard to create a bird habitat for nesting and feeding.
  • Feeding Goats: Over the last few years, ‘goatscaping’ has risen in popularity as a sustainable alternative to fossil-fueled, grass-cutting machines and pesticides – think of them as nature’s lawnmowers. If you have a local goatscaping company, contact them to see if you can turn your tree into a treat for the goats.

When you make a plan to recycle, mulch or compost your holiday tree, it also impacts your enjoyment. Rather than worry about what to do with your tree after Christmas, you can rest easy knowing its useful life is far from over.