How to Compost or Recycle Your Christmas Tree

*This post is part of our sustainable holiday series, 12 Days Of Compost (Day 10), where we share tips and ideas on how to enjoy your holidays without the carbon footprint. To get the series straight to your inbox, sign up here for our email list.*

It’s no secret that Christmas trees aren’t so great for the environment, but some of us just can’t help but keep the tradition alive. For those who choose to enjoy a real Christmas tree, the impending responsibility of disposing of your tree when the holiday season ends is a task you can’t avoid.

In our earlier installment of 12 Days Of Compost, we showed you some alternative Christmas tree ideas that will save you the trouble of disposal and the carbon footprint: cardboard trees that can be recycled, wall art trees that are reusable, and alternative potted plants that can be planted!

If you choose to have a real tree, be sure to dispose of it responsibly.

Recycling it and turning it into free mulch that can be used throughout the community is a great opportunity to lower the footprint of your holiday tree.

In the city of Gainesville, Christmas trees are considered yard waste, and can be disposed of through the curbside pickup program. Here are some guidelines for proper disposal of your Christmas tree in Alachua County:

  • Be sure to remove all the ornaments, garland, tinsel, ribbons, lights, and anything else on your tree. It should be totally bare or it will be left at your curb. Don’t make any extra work for our waste men!
  • If your tree is taller than 5 feet, you will need to cut it in half, otherwise it is too cumbersome and dangerous for the pickup crew.
Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 7.12.51 PM

The Historic Thomas Center’s stunning 20-foot Christmas tree. This giant will have to be cut into many smaller pieces!

  • If you cut your tree up and mix it with other yard waste, make sure you don’t contaminate it with plastic bags or any cord that is not biodegradable.
  • If you use cords or bags, use a natural twine or brown paper yard waste bags.

If you live in an apartment or somewhere that does not have curbside pickup, you will need to deliver your tree to one of these recycling centers:

Alachua County Rural Collection Centers (no charge). Open Monday, Tuesday, Friday & Saturday from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm.

Archer 19401 SW Archer Rd

(352) 495-3257

Fairbanks 9920 NE Waldo Rd

(352) 334-3873

Phifer 11700 SE Hawthorne Rd

(352) 334-3874

If you’re interested in getting some free mulch made from community waste, visit the Alachua County Website.

How to COMPOST Your Christmas Tree

The ultimate eco-warrior will compost his or her Christmas tree! If that’s you, follow these steps to turn your Christmas tree into (eventual) black gold for your garden.

1. Use a chainsaw or ax to trim the branches of your Christmas tree off and set them in a brush pile.

2. Use the chainsaw or ax to chop the trunk of your tree into several stumps. Add the trunk parts into your pile.

3. Cover your Christmas tree brush pile with a layer of compost, Soil Food, manure, or some other microbe-rich soil. This will act as an inoculant/activator to speed up the decomposition.

4. Hose your pile down. Optionally, cover it with a tarp. This will retain moisture and prevent the pile from drying out.

The branches in your Christmas tree compost pile will act as a bulking agent, allowing some air to pass through the pile. Occasionally, turn your pile with a pitchfork to mix and examine the decomposition.

Happy holiday composting!

To learn more about bike-powered food waste diversion in Gainesville, FL, click here.

Thanks for reading,
Krissy Olson

About the Author

Krissy studies Sustainability in the Built Environment at the University of Florida. Her love for organic gardening and support for local food systems grew through her studies and Community Supported Agriculture. Krissy is the Community Outreach Coordinator at Gainesville Compost.