Chritmas tree with red baubles and cardboard house decorations.
Responsible Christmas tree disposal

What to do With an Old Christmas Tree

Need to dispose of an old Christmas tree that’s been up in your home or business over the festive season? Avoid the quick and convenient temptation to just throw it out with your general waste. There are many more sustainable things to do with an old Christmas tree – whether it’s real or fake.

It’s important you dispose of an old Christmas tree responsibly when dealing with one that’s died, is clinging on to its last bit of life, or an artificial tree that’s seen better days. Recycling a Christmas tree can be done in various ways by UK homes and businesses to help protect our planet.

Explore these sustainable and cost-effective ideas of what to do with your old Christmas tree when January arrives.

Christmas tree 
waste facts

The idea of the modern Christmas tree dates back to 16th-century Germany, when Christians used them to decorate their homes. As well as households, today most businesses have at least one Christmas tree in place to introduce a festive feel – from restaurants, hotels, and shopping centres to offices, factories, and even some industrial plants.

This means lots more fir trees are grown and chopped down to decorate such spaces, while some places use artificial ones instead. For an idea of how much waste this creates and why sustainable disposal is important, check out these Christmas tree waste facts:

  • Between eight and 10 million real Christmas trees are sold in the UK every year.
  • Around six million Christmas trees are disposed of each year after the holiday season.
  • That amounts to 160,000 tonnes of Christmas tree waste that’s dumped every January – weighing similar to 1,500 blue whales.
  • Only around two million artificial Christmas trees are bought in the UK annually.
  • According to the Carbon Trust, you need to reuse an artificial Christmas tree ten times to negate its carbon footprint.
  • However, on average fake Christmas trees are only used four times before being disposed.
  • The carbon footprint of a two-metre artificial Christmas tree is around 40kg.
  • Real Christmas trees take around ten years to grow to the common height of about two metres (six foot).

Replant your old 
Christmas tree

One of the best things to do with an old Christmas tree is to replant it, if you have space in your garden at home or work. It provides a good environmental boost to your garden over the next 11 months – absorbing carbon dioxide and offering a home for birds and wildlife. And you can use it again next Christmas.

Replanting a Christmas tree is easiest when you’ve bought one that still has its root ball intact. However, Christmas trees are incredibly resilient, so even those with the roots chopped off may survive and thrive when replanted. There’s only on way to find out!

To replant a Christmas tree:

  • Dig a hole deep enough for the base and roots of your Christmas tree, relevant to its size.
  • Place your old Christmas tree in the hole, fill with soil, then cover with five to 10cm of mulch.
  • Water the tree and check on it regularly. When spring arrives fertilise in the middle of April and June.

Recycle a 
Christmas tree

If your real Christmas tree overdid the festive drinks or has been lying outside in the cold for a few weeks in early January, it’s probably not revivable. When you’ve got a dead Christmas tree to dispose of that you can’t use in any other way, consider recycling it.

Christmas tree recycling methods depend on whether you need to dispose of an old Christmas tree from your home or business:

  • Domestic Christmas tree recycling – many local authorities provide collections or create drop-off points in early January for old Christmas trees to encourage recycling. Some home recycling centres also have special points for Christmas tree recycling in the first few weeks of the year. Check with your local council or authority for availability, opening times, and any charges.
  • Commercial Christmas tree recycling – to dispose of an old Christmas tree from your business, it classes as commercial waste. You must arrange collection and disposal by a licensed waste carrier. At Business Waste, we can arrange Christmas tree waste collection for your organisation anywhere in the UK and ensure it’s sent for recycling. Contact us today for a free quote.

Christmas tree recycling often involves shredding them into wood chippings. Your local council then uses these in parks and woodland areas – normally adding them to paths and other areas.

Christmas tree lit up in home next to cupboard.

Compost or mulch 
your old Christmas tree

Making mulch from your old or dead Christmas tree is a sustainable way to breathe new life into any garden – whether it’s yours, your business’, or a friend’s. To mulch a Christmas tree, you need a shredder. You can hire one but, if you’ve never used a shredder before, it’s safest to let the experts take charge.

Cut off your old Christmas tree’s branches and slice up the trunk so they easily fit in the shredder. Once the tree’s shredded you can add these chippings to the base of trees and shrubs to form mulch that treats compaction and prevents soil erosion. Or simply use the shredded pieces to reinforce garden paths.

Composting your tree is a natural solution too. However, don’t try and stick it into your compost bin whole straightway. Chop it up and leave for a while first to encourage faster decomposition. To compost an old Christmas tree:

  • Cut your dead Christmas tree into small chunks.
  • Pile up these chunks on top of each other in your yard or garden.
  • Wait for the pine needles to fall off and the branches to become brittle, then add to your compost pile.
Find out how to compost

Chop up the branches

Cutting up your waste Christmas tree makes it much easier to manage. If you don’t have a shredder, chopping it up is also an option to dispose of an old Christmas tree sustainably. Stack the chopped-up branches and trunk and leave in your garden to form a shelter for wildlife. It will slowly decompose and turn into natural mulch too.

You can also use an old chopped up Christmas tree as:

  • Firewood – store the chopped-up branches under cover and leave to dry, then use for heating on a wood fire.
  • A stake – strip the branches bare and put one or more in a pot to act as a stake to support flowers, beansprouts, and other plants growing up them.
  • Flowerbed protection – create a frame with the branches, bending them if needed, and cover with frost protection fabric. This insulates delicate flowers during the cold winter months.
Christmas tree next to rug and fireplace.

Make a wreath 
or garland

The festive season may be over, but you can still repurpose some of your waste Christmas tree and turn it into a natural decoration. Wreaths and garlands don’t have to be used exclusively in December, they can add a natural touch and aroma to any home or business into the New Year.

Use wire or twine and around five cuttings from the bottom branches of your old Christmas tree. Wrap these cuttings around the wire or twine, which forms the spine of your decoration. Add any other decorative elements like holly or scotch pine, then hang up your finished wreath or garland.

Learn more about zero waste Christmas decorations

What to do with an 
old artificial Christmas tree

As artificial Christmas trees are made from combinations of various materials, they can’t be recycled. Instead, if your old fake Christmas tree is in a decent condition, the best thing to do is donate it to a charity shop. Alternatively, try giving it away or selling online to avoid it going to landfill.

If you plan on buying an artificial Christmas tree, think about whether you have enough storage space to keep it for a year. Otherwise, a real tree may be a more sustainable option. You can also look for a zero waste Christmas tree – alternative options often made from wood, cardboard, and other plastic-free recyclable materials.

close up of pine needles on Christmas tree.

Where can I take my 
Christmas tree for recycling?

Check your local council or authority website to recycle a Christmas tree from your home. They should supply a list of recycling centres that accept Christmas tree waste with information about their location and opening times. Some also list any collection services.

To recycle an old Christmas tree from your business you must arrange commercial waste collection. Our nationwide network means at Business Waste we can help organisations all over the UK arrange Christmas tree waste collection. Contact us online or call 0800 211 8390 for a free quote to recycle your Christmas tree.

Read our Christmas waste guides

Christmas tree
recycling FAQs

  • AGRICULTURAL WASTE If a Christmas tree is brown, is it dead?

    Not necessarily. But if a Christmas tree starts to turn brown, it’s a sign something is wrong. Underwatering or exposure to heat and dry air can cause a Christmas tree to turn brown. However, so can overwatering. It may create a drainage problem and rot the roots, causing the tree to die and turn brown.

    Run your hands through the branches. If most of the needles fall off easily then the Christmas tree is likely dead. Should most of them not fall off and still feel pliable then it’s still alive and you might be able to revive your tree.

  • AGRICULTURAL WASTE How can I revive a dead Christmas tree?

    If your Christmas tree has started to turn brown and droop, there are a few things you can try to revive it:

    • Water your tree, as drought is one of the main reasons Christmas trees die.
    • Recut the trunk to stop it sealing over with sap, which stops it absorbing water.
    • Trim damaged stems and branches and give it more space to grow while reducing the number of branches that need water.
    • Move away from the heat that may cause it to dry out and die.
    • Add fertiliser to feed the soil (use indoor or outdoor fertiliser depending on its location to avoid stinking out your home).
  • AGRICULTURAL WASTE Can you burn an old Christmas tree?

    No, wood from old Christmas trees can contain lots of moisture, sap, and resin so it isn’t suitable to burn. Pine needles also contain nitrogen, which can be toxic. Wood from fir, pine, and spruces may produce creosote too. This is a flammable and corrosive substance that presents a greater fire risk if it goes up your chimney and ignites.

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