An artificial christmas tree in a store

What to do with Christmas trees?

22 Sep 22 2 minute read

Real or fake? That is the question.

When it comes to Christmas trees, there’s a lot of debate over whether buying a real tree is better for the environment than buying an artificial one.

According to our experts at Zero Waste Scotland, real or ‘natural’ trees are more eco-friendly on a one-off basis, if disposed of responsibly. However, an artificial tree that is well looked after can offset its higher carbon footprint if used for 10 years or more. 

Real trees that are locally grown have less associated carbon emissions, for example from transport. 

packing artificial tree away in a cardboard box

Recycling or reusing your real Christmas tree

Once Christmas is over, dispose of your real tree responsibly. Ideally, plant it. Trees that do well in the garden can be used again next Christmas, when they will be even bigger and better!  

If planting it isn’t an option, compost where possible or take it to your local household recycling centre. Some councils offer a designated Christmas tree uplift – check your local authority’s website for up to date information. 
Please never flytip or dump your Christmas tree. When natural materials like wood end up in landfill they emit methane, a greenhouse gas, so it’s extra important that real trees are recycled.   

How are real trees recycled?

Trees are usually shredded into chippings which are then used locally in parks or woodland areas. 

What can I do with an artificial tree?

If you buy an artificial tree, store it well and use it as many times as possible. We’re not suggesting you keep your tree up all year round, but if you have an artificial tree make sure you put it back in the box or bag once Christmas is over and store it somewhere dry. An artificial tree is for life – not just for a single Christmas! 

Artificial trees are not recyclable, due to the combination of materials used, so if you no longer need it keep it out of the recycling bin. Instead, donate it to a charity shop if it’s still in good condition or ask friends and family if they would like it. 

Recycling is constantly evolving and changing so check back for updates or try our recycling locator to find out what you can recycle at home and where you can recycle or pass on unwanted items in your local area.