Now that Christmas is winding down, many Canadians may be removing ornaments from their trees and packing up those unwrapped presents.
If you’re wondering what the most environmentally friendly way to get get rid of your Christmas tree is — that depends on if it’s real or fake.
If your tree is fake, then you can simply box it up and save it until next year.
But according to the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario, the demand for real trees during the holidays has been steadily rising over the last six years as more people are opting to buy natural and local.
So if you’re one of the many Canadians who decided to buy a real tree, there are several ways to recycle it that give back to the environment.
Turn the tree into wood chips, mulch
Many Canadian cities have a tree pick-up and composting program. This is when you bring your Christmas tree to a recycling depot, and it will then be turned into mulch or wood chips and used in green spaces around the city.
For example, in Winnipeg, the city offers a free tree-recycling program that turns your evergreen into wood chips for municipal shrub beds in order to prevent moisture loss. It allows residents to pick up wood chips for their own gardens.
“Mulch is a great way to prevent weeds in gardens and add nutrients,” Shirley Brennan, the executive director of Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario, said.
Turn the tree into a home for backyard critters
Placing your tree in your backyard or garden is a convenient and environmentally-friendly option. It can offer a winter shelter for birds and squirrels running around.
“If you’re a person who has a backyard, put it outside and you will notice that the needles will fade in colour but they will stay there for a while … the birds will sit on them and it will provide shelter in the winter,” Brennan said.
And if you want to add a little more, she said you can dip the pinecones in peanut butter and then roll it around in bird seeds for a winter snack for animals.
Dan Kraus, with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said come spring, people should cut off the branches and put them in contact with the soil, where they can start to decompose.
Kraus also says the trunk of the tree can help feed the soil and provide cover for toads and insects.
Donate the tree to a wildlife sanctuary
Many wildlife refuges in Canada will also take used trees for bedding for the animals.
For example, the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation accepts donated trees, as the evergreens provide a natural habitat for recovering animals, making them feel more at home.
Donate the tree to river, stream program
Christmas trees can also be used to help restore river ecosystems, according to Brennan.
“Groups that maintain and try and restore rivers and prevent erosion will pick up trees and lay them across the river banks,” she said. “It helps with erosion and also provides ecological habitats, fish will find shelter and the tree will also brew down naturally.”
Recycled Christmas trees line the beach shoring up sand dunes and preventing erosion as the wind covers them with sand and turns them into dunes.
(Try not to) bring the tree to the landfill
Although it’s not bad for the environment, bringing your Christmass tree to the landfill is just not the most effective way to reuse it, Brennan said.
The tree will break down naturally, “but it’s just not as beneficial,” she said.
(Try not to) burn it
Brennan said burning your Christmas tree may not be the most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of it.
That is because taking a match to a fresh tree is not going to have the same impact as doing it to a dried one.
“It’s going to smoke and smoulder more than it burns,” she said. “And that’s not healthy for anyone or the environment.”
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