5 Useful Ways to Recycle that Old Christmas Tree

Another holiday season has come and ere long will pass. The yule log will burn low, the carols will quiet, and the hangover will eventually fade. Soon, it will be time to pack up the ornaments, dump the rancid eggnog, and try to remember which projects you left uncompleted at work.

You also have to figure out what to do with your Christmas tree now that the season is coming to an end. If you’re like most Christmas tree-having Americans, your approach is likely to haul the old evergreen outside, shedding countless needles you’ll be picking up well into the summer, and unceremoniously toss the thing — that same tree you festooned with tinsel, lights, and love — down onto the cold, hard curb to wait for its final destination: a municipal pile of trash. Sigh.

decorate christmas tree lights

Instead of callously disposing of your old Christmas tree, why not re-purpose that old, dead hulk you once loved instead? It’s time you start thinking of clever uses for a recycled Christmas tree. An evergreen offers myriad opportunities for new uses, and many of these projects are not only easy but fun.

Coasters

Everyone likes rugged, rustic wooden coasters, right? Well, most people. Many, at any rate. Some people like them. I like them, dammit! Provided you had a Christmas tree with a decently hearty trunk, all you need is a good miter saw and some lacquer to make multiple sets of charming coasters.

You simply cut the thickest few inches of the trunk into discs. I recommend slicing them into sections about a half-inch thick and leaving the discs to sit for a week or two to let any residual sap bleed out. Next, tap a brad nail or even just a thumbtack into the edge of each pine disc and tie a string around it. Cover the discs in a thick, generous layer of store-bought lacquer, then suspend them (over cardboard, plastic, or an old newspaper) and let the excess lacquer drip off. Give them a couple days to dry fully. There, you just made awesome coasters from your old tree’s trunk. Homemade coasters make great gifts because they are oh-so-unique and thoughtful and because they cost you all of one can of lacquer.

Fire Starters

The thousands of dried pine needles your old Christmas tree sheds can be a serious headache to clean up, but they can also be a great source of fire. This is simple stuff here, people. All you need to gather are:

  • Lots of dried pine needles.
  • Some empty egg cartons.
  • A bunch of wax.
pine needle fire starter

The type of wax does not matter; use old candles, order a bag of paraffin, use beeswax from your own hive, whatever. However, the egg cartons need to be cardboard, not Styrofoam. Break the pine needles up into smallish pieces and then fill the cups of the egg carton(s), packing the needles down gently. Now melt the wax and fill each cup of needles up to just below its brim. Let the wax cool for a few hours, and then there you go: great, slow-burning fire starters that create a Christmas-y smell.

Pro tip: When melting the wax, use an old soup can or to cut the top off of a beer or soda can be filled with wax and placed on a hot grill. Another tip? Use a thick work glove when you pick up the can.

Tea or Beer

You can brew all sorts of great stuff using pine needles! Actually, just tea and beer, really. But, hey, tea and beer! Those are great! And a great source of vitamin C, by the way, those pine needles!

For a batch of pine needle tea, you can just toss a handful of needles (provided they are still green) into a cup or two of boiling water, cut the heat, add some lemon slices, and let everything steep for about five minutes. But a tastier idea is to mix about one part pine needle with five parts black tea and then steep as normal. As for brewing beer with pine, consider adding needles with each hop addition for an IPA or steeping your grains with a handful of pine when making an ale or a robust lager.

Mulch or Compost

If you have a wood chipper, a ground-up Christmas tree makes amazing mulch. Once it’s fully dried, just chop that ol’ tree into pieces and spread it about wherever you need some ground cover.

pine mulch

Even if you don’t have a chipper, the needles and smaller branches can still be added to a batch of compost. They are a rich source of all-important carbon, which a compost pile requires in much greater volume than nitrogen. Don’t put the whole trunk in there, though.

Firewood

Ever notice how trees are made of wood? Well, wood makes the best firewood, so use that wood from this year’s Christmas tree for next winter’s fires. Removing all the branches from the tree can be a bit annoying, but with a good, sharp hatchet, the limbing won’t take long. The trunk of a hearty Christmas tree should yield enough wood for at least one great fire, or maybe two depending on the duration and size of your fires. Also, the lower foot or so of the tree can be split into great fire starting kindling thanks to the sap content.

Article originally published on December 26, 2016.

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