How to Upcycle Your Christmas Tree

After it brought you such joy, you’re going to just send it to the dump?
(Photo: Paul Viant/Getty Images)
Dec 29, 2015· 3 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

By dumping their Christmas trees on their lawns, many Americans run the risk of their pines going to environmentally problematic landfills where they decompose and emit C02, despite the fact that real trees can be easily recycled and put to good use.

The National Christmas Tree Association, a trade organization representing Christmas tree growers and sellers, offers on its website a number of tree recycling options for those wishing to go even greener than their nature-made decoration this holiday.

While recycling your Christmas tree into sexy lingerie isn’t one of the association’s options, it is available elsewhere.

Here are five ways you can upcycle your Christmas tree this season, instead of dropping it off at a recycling center or cutting it down into yard waste bins.

Turn It Into Mulch

Turning your Christmas tree into mulch for your garden is not only a great way to recycle your pine, but it also keeps plants protected from soil erosion and extreme weather changes. Local public works departments can chip and shred trees for those looking to mulch them, though if you have a neighbor with a wood chipper or can find one on a stuff-sharing site like NeighborGoods, you can get one that way.

In San Diego, a Christmas tree recycling program turns old trees into high-quality mulch and compost that’s available for free at a local greenery. In Georgia, the state’s annual “Bring One for the Chipper” program has recycled about 6 million trees since it started 25 years ago. The program involves hundreds of regional communities and thousands of volunteers to turn Christmas trees into mulch for playgrounds, yards, and other city development projects.

New York City collects trees from the sidewalk and turns them into mulch that is used by the parks department.

Create Soil-Erosion Barriers

After Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast in late 2012, the sand dunes on New Jersey beaches that helped protect hundreds of seaside homes were left destroyed as well.

In an effort to protect the dunes from further erosion, hundreds of Christmas trees were donated to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and installed by volunteers along the dune lines. Trees are able to trap sand in their branches, which will ultimately bury them and create a better barrier against heavy waves in the event of future hurricanes.

Other areas vulnerable to strong storms have been using recycled Christmas trees to protect their coastal wetlands and sand dunes from soil erosion. A Louisiana-based wetlands conservation project builds tree fences that fight erosion and protect the coastline. Since 1986, the project has recycled more than 1.5 million trees—70 of which came from the White House in 1997. The eight miles of tree fences constructed thus far were said to have helped marshlands when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Help Foster Wildlife Habitats

Christmas trees aren’t just for our seasonal use; they can also be used for wildlife conservation efforts.

Decaying pines can be sunk into fish habitats, where they provide shelter and food sources for fish species. In Portland, Oregon, a program called “Christmas for Coho” is taking old trees and placing them into the Necanicum River for the benefit of baby coho salmon.

(Photo: Linton Zoo/Facebook)

Christmas trees are also used as nesting areas for more than 200 bird species and 26 nesting species at Poplar Island in Maryland. And they provide entertainment for African lions at the U.K.’s Linton Zoological Gardens, who like to play and roll around on the cut trees.

Those looking to make a bird feeder for their backyard can simply use their old Christmas tree as a bird sanctuary by hanging orange slices and strung popcorn on the branches to attract a range of species.

Shred Pines for Hiking Trail Paths

As an eco-friendly alternative to shoveling out live vegetation, shredded trees make great paths for hiking trails. Dunbar Cave State Park in Tennessee mulches about 1,000 Christmas trees for the park’s trails each year. The mulch prevents water runoff and cushions the trails for visitors exploring the park.

Donate It to a Nonprofit

Canned food, clothes, and blankets are known as commonly donated items to nonprofits, but you’d be surprised to see how beneficial donated Christmas trees can be for needy families.

This year's Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. (Photo: Facebook)

Habitat for Humanity is one nonprofit that takes donated trees and turns them into homes for needy families. The world’s most famous Christmas tree, the Rockefeller Center tree, is made into lumber after it’s taken down and used to help build Habitat homes.