Before you haul that Christmas tree out to the curb, consider one of these eco-friendly ideas—fire starters, scented sachets, and more.

By Alexandra Churchill
January 12, 2021
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Credit: Kathryn Barnard

Over the month of December, and despite our best intentions to water it faithfully, a Christmas tree will inevitably dry out, leaving its branches browned and its pine needles fallen off. And when you go to remove that beautiful tannenbaum from your house, you may find a mess of needles trailing from your living room to the front door. Before you grab the broom or vacuum, know that you can recycle your Christmas tree and its branches. To learn about local programs, contact your sanitation or environmental department. Or, if you're resourceful, opt for one of these alternative ideas to upcycling fallen needles at home.

Fire Starters

Out of firewood? To ignite some warmth at home, you can pour homemade wax fire starters or bundle fragrant natural elements with twine. To create the ones pictured here, use hemp twine to bundle small pine branches and cones with other items that dry well and smell great (such as dried orange slices, sage, lavender, and eucalyptus). Then slip it all into muslin gift bags with playful handmade tags that say "Burn me" or "Light my fire."

Scented Sachets

Another home fragrance idea, no fireplace required, is to turn the needles into stuffing for fabric sachets. While mothballs are an effective way to prevent damage, their distinct smell is rather unpleasant. However, certain herbs such as tansy and wormwood are not only sweet-smelling but also have moth-repellent properties. Combine these herbs in a sachet with pine needles to tuck away into closets or drawers. This makes good use of leftover fabric scraps, too.

Garden Mulch

If you're a gardener, use the branches as mulch this winter and you'll be providing another service, too: Your tree won't end up by the side of the road announcing the end of the holiday season. Remove the branches, and criss-cross them over your garden to a thickness of several inches (after the ground has frozen), creating a blanket for tender perennials. This will help keep the ground temperature constant and reduce freezing and thawing, which causes heaving, disturbing the plants' roots. Plus, they don't decompose that quickly.

Homemade Soap

In the spirit of a new year cleanse, melt and pour your own batch of soap bars. Pine is naturally antibacterial and emits a crisp, forest scent; leave the needles at their full length or you can grind them to a powder. Pine trees are part of the conifer family; nearly all conifer needles are food-safe: spruce, fir, pine, and hemlock. (It's worth noting, of course, that you should not use pine needles from trees that have been sprayed with pesticides.)

Stovetop Potpourri

Again, assuming that your pine tree has not been treated with any chemicals, pesticides, or anything potentially toxic, you can use the needles to brew a pot of stovetop potpourri. Add them to a pot of cinnamon sticks, cloves, and citrus peels, let it simmer, and it will infuse the room with a wintry fragrance like the holidays never left us at all.

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