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10 Creative Ways to Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Rather than tossing your Christmas tree in the trash, why not recycle it more imaginatively and help the environment at the same time?

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christmas treeChantal de Bruijne/shutterstock

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree

Nothing beats a real Christmas tree, and whether your tastes run to wild and wacky decorative ideas, or your ornaments hold a host of precious memories, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, a real tree is the environmentally-friendly choice.

Doug Hundley of the NCTA explains why: “Real trees are not a liability to the environment—they’re actually beneficial. They’re not harvested out of the forests but grown as an agricultural crop on plantations.” And real trees can also be reused or recycled, giving the environment a double benefit.

There are many ways to recycle your tree once you’re done with it. Most areas have a curb recycling scheme, or you can take it to a drop-off center yourself—just remove the tinsel, lights, and decorations before you go!.

But if you’d like to branch out with your Christmas tree recycling ideas, here are 10 imaginative alternatives.

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mulchMiriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/shutterstock

Make garden mulch

One live tree creates five pounds of mulch. Spread round your shrubs and plants, mulch retains water, suppresses weeds and promotes stronger growth. Your landscaper could tell you that—and here are 18 more things your landscaper wish you knew about your yard. You can make your own mulch by buying or hiring a shredder, but why not make it into an event and hold a mulching party with your friends and neighbors? Everyone brings their tree, (and a shredder if they have one) and you can make an occasion of it. Or take your tree to an event like the New York City Mulchfest.

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hikingJens Ottoson/shutterstock

Help hiking trail maintenance

Parks and wilderness areas are created for everyone to enjoy, but hiking trails are increasingly used by others such as horse riders or mountain bikers. Trails become worn and damaged, rocks and roots are exposed, and in severe cases paths can be torn up or worn away. Which is why trail maintenance is just one of the many creative ways to volunteer your time—or your tree: Many national parks have their own scheme for accepting Christmas trees and using the mulch to maintain trails, so check your local schemes if you want to support your wild environment.

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naturegiedrius b/shutterstock

Preserve wetland habitats

Our natural environments are under threat from weather events, human activity and climate change. The Louisiana wetlands are losing a frightening 25-35 square miles of prime wetland each year, reducing important wildlife habitat and leaving the coastal area open to damage from hurricane surges. The wetlands are essential for providing natural water filtering and capacity for local fisheries.

But recycled Christmas trees are helping the residents fight back. Since 1991, over 750,000 trees have been used to stabilize the coastline and preserve the wetlands for the future. Check to see if your area has a local scheme for protecting the environment with recycled trees. Outside of the U.S., these items are easily recyclable. 

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beachpaula sierra/shutterstock

Save the sand dunes

During Hurricane Sandy, half a million cubic yards of sand were washed away from the sand dunes at Long Beach, New York, reducing their height by up to five feet in places. But local residents and Home Depot donated over 3,000 trees which were laid on the dunes to prevent further loss. (Are you prepared for a hurricane? Here’s what you need to know.)

The tree branches catch the sand as it’s blown around, helping to bind and repair the dunes. States such as North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, have permanent sand dune management schemes using Christmas tree recycling, so check out what’s local to you.

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Make a backyard bird feeder

Birds have it tough in the winter months, so why not use your tree as a bird feeder? Stand it in a large container (sink the container in the ground if you prefer the natural look), and festoon the branches with bird treats. Nut feeders are always welcome, but you could also add fat balls, bread holders and seed dispensers too. And you can watch for the birds of spring—learn to identify them with these stunning photos.

For a natural approach, make your own feeders, by dipping pine cones in melted fat and then rolling in bird seed. Or remove the branches and make a peanut butter feeder for your famished feathered friends.

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natureBravoKiloVideo 1/shutterstock

Create a habitat for fish

If you have a pond in your backyard, your fish will love a custom-made hiding place created from your old tree. Cut the branches into a suitable lengths and sink them into your pond to make a sheltered areas for your fish to hide. Newly hatched babies will especially appreciate dense undergrowth to stop them becoming a tasty meal for a larger fish and the branches will also release nutrients as they decompose.

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Give spawning salmon a boost

Salmon need a tailor-made environment to spawn successfully. Many schemes, like this one involving the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, offer opportunities for the community and volunteers to help. Old Christmas trees are bound together to make reefs, which slow the river water, help the build-up of gravel, and contribute to water nutrients. Donate your tree to a local scheme or better still, go along and give a hand with reef-making.

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birdMriya Wildlife/shutterstock

Help a heronry

In the last few years, habitat loss encouraged herons and egrets to move into Baker’s Lake, Cook County, Illinois, destroying some of the existing vegetation and upsetting the eco-balance. Now the park uses 300-400 recycled Christmas trees each year to maintain a huge man-made heronry, home to great blue herons, great egrets, cormorants and locally threatened black-crowned night herons. If you’re seeking Christmas tree ideas for recycling, why not check out your local wildlife habitats and see if they can use your tree?

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Give goats a square meal

It’s common knowledge that goats will eat anything, and they’ve proved it by tucking in to mouthfuls of recycled trees as a seasonal change from their usual fare. In 2016, goats from one farm near Boston worked their way through over 70 recycled trees donated by local residents

Other animal sanctuaries have similar schemes, so give yours a call to offer your tree—you may have some very grateful goats! They might even look as happy as these insanely cute baby goats.

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leopardRonnie Howard/shutterstock

Provide awesome animal enrichment

Staff in zoos and wildlife parks are on a constant quest to find enrichment activities for their animals to stop them getting bored and help encourage their natural instincts. Animals love to play with recycled Christmas trees, dragging them round or tearing them to pieces. Some creatures enjoy eating them too. By the way, your animal/pet might like to tell you he’s bored, too—here are 50 other things your pet would like you to know.

Many zoos have their own collections arrangements, but some have special enrichment days where they offer reduced admission if you bring your tree, and you can see what the animals get up to with their new playthings.

Not only are real trees a great eco-friendly choice, but by thinking carefully about your Christmas tree recycling, you can benefit the environment once the holiday is over. And that’s a win-win for us all.

Elizabeth Manneh
Elizabeth is an experienced freelance writer, specializing in health & wellness, education & learning, family life & parenting, and women's issues. She's been published on Huffington Post, and was a regular contributor to Love Live Health and Daily Home Remedy. Elizabeth is a retired primary school principal and education consultant, with a continuing passion for education and learning. She's familiar with writing newsletters, reports to stakeholders, financial reports, business plans and evaluation reports.

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