wooden bowls

6 Sustainable Ways to Get Rid of an Old Tree 

Rachel Lark - July 6, 2023

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What do you do with your Christmas tree after you undeck the halls? What about that one in the backyard that never recovered after being struck by lightning? What’s the most sustainable way to get rid of an old tree? 

The landfill is the worst choice. Why? Biological matter requires the process of oxygen to break back down into rich, loamy soil. Landfill conditions are anaerobic, meaning there’s no oxygen. Instead, organic matter breaks down improperly, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas far heavier than carbon dioxide. 

However, you have plenty of alternatives. What should you consider? Here are six sustainable ways to get rid of an old tree. 

1. Mulch It 

Mulch is the ideal substrate for insulating your garden plants for winter and preventing excess moisture loss during summer. It can set you back, too — a typical bag at the nursery costs $5 or more for two cubic feet — enough for one plant. You could spend over $100 or make good use of that old tree. 

The easiest way to make mulch from an old tree is to rent a woodchipper. Use this for the largest branches and the trunk, blending in leaves and other clippings later. You can add it to a separate compost bin and let time work its magic, although it may take several weeks to months for the wood to weaken enough to break it up with a shovel. 

2. Compost It 

It’s relatively easy to build a backyard compost bin with old pallets, and this project doesn’t cost any more than you need for the necessary nails and other hardware to hold it together. Many people who complete such a project include at least two separate sections. One is for food scraps, which tend to break down quickly, and the other is for yard waste. 

Smaller particles decompose faster, so break down any branches, trunks or twigs from your old tree before adding them to the bin. Remember, composting requires oxygen. You’ll get to the finished product — a rich supply of loamy, nutrient-dense soil — much more quickly if you turn your compost once or twice a week with a rake. Some commercial composting cylinders have a handle you simply turn now and then. 

3. Make a Unique Furniture Accent 

Can an old tree branch make a stunning railing for that short flight of stairs separating your living and dining areas? It can with the right DIY touch. 

Sometimes, all you need are ideas to spark your creativity. Check out this list of fun projects you can make with the trunk or branches of your old tree. 

  • Railing: Treat the branch for pests, preserve it with clear stain and mount it like an ordinary wood piece. 
  • Closet rod: You could also seal the wood with a coat of polyurethane and use it as a rustic outdoor shower rod. 
  • Gazebo or gate: Use branches for the sides and twigs to weave a roof. 
  • Lamp post: Make a funky indoor lamp for cozy country decor or waterproof it for an outdoor version. 
  • Candle holder: Hollow out thick branches or use thinner ones to create a candelabra. 
  • Benches: Sanding down two sides of a thick trunk makes an excellent outdoor bench. 
  • Cat tree: Use thick branches or trunk for climbing, adding carpeted seating areas throughout. 
  • Coat racks: A thick piece of the trunk with several strategically placed branches can make an excellent organizational tool for your entryway. 

4. Camping, Anyone? 

Why spend half of your first day in the wild gathering wood for the evening’s campfire? You have a ready stash ripe for the lighting if you recently cut down an old tree. If it’s been dead long enough, the wood is likely dry and well-seasoned. 

You can also use thick trunk rounds to make seating around the campfire. Save some smaller branches, too — they’re perfect stakes for toasting marshmallows. 

5. Rustic Cabin Plates and Bowls 

You don’t see many wooden platters outside of the funky fair trade pieces found at stores like World Market. However, you don’t have to pay retail prices when you have an ample supply of cedar or chestnut from your old tree. 

You’ll need quite the list of supplies to tackle this DIY project. However, your reward is a one-of-a-kind set of dishware you’ll feel good passing on to your kids one day. 

The toughest part of this project might be cutting the bowl blank or pattern you’ll use to create your set. Have someone comfortable with power tools handle the band saw or pull saw. Sanding the finished products to a smooth shine is a mindfulness activity that can help you relax after the stress of heavy, sharp equipment. 

6. Deck the Halls 

While cutting large, flat slices of your old tree’s trunk to create dinner plates, make a few extras. You can use these rounds in various woodworking projects to adorn your home. 

For example, you could transform one into a simple clock for your kitchen. You might do wood burning on another, creating a mandala pattern or illustration. You might also consider the following: 

  • Painting your rounds 
  • Adding beads or glitter
  • Carving out the center and adding stained glass 

Sustainable Ways to Get Rid of an Old Tree 

If you have an old tree you need to get rid of, please don’t send it to a landfill. Doing so contributes to climate change. 

There are scores of sustainable ways to dispose of an old tree. Try one of the approaches above and use this raw material well. 

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of Environment.co. A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.