Need some tips on recycling Christmas trees in the UK? I’ve got all the details – from recycling real trees to potted and artificial ones.
Now that the glitz and sparkle of Christmas is over, it’s time for the big cleanup. Households and businesses up and down the UK will be taking down their Christmas decorations this January. And in total we’ll be looking to dispose of an estimated eight million Christmas trees this year alone.
If real trees end up in landfill, it’s estimated that the average Christmas tree will release 16 kg of greenhouse gases as it decomposes. Here, in oxygen-starved landfills, these trees produce methane gas, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). With 8 million trees needing to be disposed of, it’s incredibly important to recycle your tree with the planet in mind.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can discard your unwanted tree in a way that is kind to the planet. Let’s take a look at all the eco-friendly ways to give your Christmas tree a sustainable farewell.
How To Responsibly Dispose Of Every Type Of Tree This Festive Season
To help ensure your Christmas tree doesn’t end up in landfill, I’ve put together lots of ideas for recycling every type of tree. From eco-friendly ways that your old tree can help benefit local charities or help prevent flooding, to cleaning your home, you’ll be amazed at what your tree can do:
- How To Recycle Real Christmas Trees
- How To Recycle Potted Christmas Trees
- How To Recycle Artificial Christmas Trees
How To Recycle Real Christmas Trees
If you are looking to recycle your tree and benefit local charities at the same time, then check out Just Helping.
This UK charity was founded in 2012 with a mission to inspire and support people, businesses, charities, and other community organisations to contribute and volunteer in their local communities.
Just Helping’s main fundraising activity is its annual Christmas tree collection and recycling service. Here it works with local charities, hospices, and community and volunteer groups to coordinate Christmas tree collections nationwide.
In January 2023 more than 2800 volunteers in 54 locations worked with Just Helping to collect and recycle 61,700 trees. This raised a cool £940,663 for local charities, charities and community projects.
Simply find the closest Christmas Tree recycling collection on the map. You can then contact the organisation co-ordinating the collection. In return for a donation, they will collect your Christmas tree from outside of your house and recycle it for you.
What happens to your tree depends on who is collecting your tree. The Christmas Tree recycling closest to me is the Strathcarron Hospice, which provides specialist end-of-life care to people across Forth Valley, Cumbernauld & Kilsyth.
Its volunteers will be collecting trees in January 2024. They will then take the trees to Sustainable Thinking Scotland in Falkirk for recycling. This organisation uses the trees to produce compost and biochar – an organic material that helps increase soil fertility.
Just Helping also has a handy page outlining what happens to your tree after collection.
Currently, Just Helping mostly operates in England. I could only find one collection in Scotland, and none in Wales or Northern Ireland. However, the Christmas tree collection event has been growing every year. Just Helping’s goal is to offer Christmas tree recycling in every postcode within 3 years. So watch this space!
Flood Prevention Schemes
Another innovative way to dispose of your Christmas tree sustainably is to donate it to a local flood prevention scheme.
Yes, you read that correctly. Organisations, such as the Wildlife Trust and the National Trust host annual Christmas tree planting events at various locations across the country.
Here they use your old Christmas trees and recycle them into flood defences. Search online to see if there are any schemes local to you.
For example, Lancashire Wildlife Trust will be recycling old Christmas trees into sand dunes on the Fylde Coast this February.
If you live locally, you can organise to have your Christmas tree collected from your home in January to be recycled in the sand dunes. And if you want to help out, there’s the option to volunteer to help bury the Christmas trees during its annual Christmas tree planting event.
Why is The Trust doing this? Well, the sand dunes along the Fylde Coast are home to a variety of unique plants and animals and serve as an effective sea defence for the local community. Yet in the last 150 years, 80% of the dunes have been lost.
To help save the dunes, donated Christmas trees are strategically placed in front of the existing dunes. As the wind blows, the branches of the trees trap sand, gradually creating new dunes.
In 2023, the Trust received over 2500 trees and was able to see an impressive 90-metre increase in the width of the Fylde Sand Dune system. So your tree can do good things long after Christmas has passed!
Local Authority Recycling Centres & Collections
If Just Helping doesn’t operate in your local area yet, then many Local Authorities arrange drop-off points or special collections of real Christmas trees in early January.
Here you can drop off your tree or have your Christmas tree collected for recycling. Most Local Authorities then chip the trees and use the chippings in parks or woodland areas. Some will even let you recycle your tree at your local Household Waste Recycling Centre.
Check your Local Authority website or Facebook page for more information.
Make Pine Scented Cleaning Spray
Recycling your Christmas tree doesn’t mean you have to get rid of it completely. Before you pass it on for recycling, why not cut a few branches off your tree to use to make homemade cleaning products?
I make this pine-infused vinegar for cleaning. As well as smelling fresh and festive – keeping you in the holiday spirit for longer – it cuts through dirt, grease, odours, and soap scum with ease.
If you’re new to using vinegar to clean, it’s important to know that vinegar isn’t suitable for cleaning natural stone, granite, marble, quartz, or similar. This is because vinegar can be corrosive to these materials, and may etch the surface.
There are also a few other vinegar no-nos to know. First, avoid using vinegar-based cleaners to clean metallic painted surfaces like your car. It can damage the paintwork.
And secondly, don’t mix vinegar-based cleaning products with any other cleaning products that contain bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Combining these products can release poisonous gases that can be harmful to you.
How To Recycle Potted Christmas Trees
If you opted for a potted Christmas tree – one of the most sustainable Christmas tree options around – then you won’t want to pass it on for recycling. However, you may well be wondering what to do with it after Christmas.
One way is to replant your Christmas tree. Whether you plant it directly in your garden or pop it into a pot, so you can bring it again next year to enjoy, both options are eco-friendly. After all, your tree will continue to grow through the year, absorbing CO2 from the air.
If you’re keeping it in the pot, bear in mind that it will need to be replanted each year. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends that you move your potted tree into a bigger pot annually until you reach the maximum size that can be moved comfortably (about 45cm (18in) diameter and depth).
From my experience of using a potted tree, you may want to acclimatise it slowly to being outside again after a few weeks inside a warm home. Otherwise, the shock of the January cold could kill it. Try putting it outside during the day for a few weeks, and then bringing it back in again at night to help it acclimatise to the cold.
If your potted Christmas tree has gotten too big for your garden, try contacting a local growing group. They may be able to replant it on community-owned land.
How To Recycle Artificial Christmas Trees
If you have an artificial Christmas tree that you are looking to recycle then it’s a much trickier picture. Most fake Christmas trees are made of a mix of different materials – a mix of different types of plastic and metals – so they can’t be recycled.
It’s better to extend the life of your tree by storing it correctly. To do so, disassemble the tree carefully, ensuring all branches are securely attached. Place each section in a durable, airtight storage bag or box to shield it from dust, moisture and rodents. It would be best if you then stored the tree in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight, to prevent potential discolouration.
By adopting these simple storage practices, your artificial tree will be ready to spread joy for many more festive seasons to come.
If your tree has seen better days then unfortunately the only option is to bin it.
If your tree is still in good condition, but you no longer want it, then the best thing to do is put your tree in your loft, shed or garage until November. You can then dust it off and try offering it to charity shops for re-sale and re-use. Most charity shops won’t take Christmas trees at other times of the year, due to storage limitations. This is why it’s more practical if you can store it until closer to next Christmas.
If local charity shops won’t accept your tree, try selling or giving it away. Sites such as Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle or Gumtree are ideal for this.
Looking for more Christmas recycling tips? Here are my top tips on how to recycle Christmas cards – even the glittery ones.