The sad reality is that when you throw away your Christmas tree, it ends up in a landfill where it lingers for decades, very slowly decomposing. To make matters even worse, once your tree finally does decay and break down—let's say 15+ years from now—it will release noxious methane, a greenhouse gas that’s worse for our environment than carbon dioxide.

Thankfully, there's a better way. Here are 5 free and easy ways you can recycle or repurpose your Christmas tree to the benefit of our planet and your local community.

But Before Your Recycle...

Make sure to carefully remove ALL decorations from the tree, as well as the plastic bag you use to drag it to the curb. Items like Christmas lights and ornaments not only damage the chippers they use to recycle trees, but can also cause serious harm to those operating the machinery.

Unfortunately, if you have an artificial tree or a flocked tree—the ones sprayed in that fake snow—you cannot recycle it in the ways outlined below.

1. Support Your Community

Often to advance local parks and animal habitats, many cities collect Christmas trees and repurpose or recycle them to enrich their local community.

Just do a quick search online or contact your city directly to learn how to take advantage of their recycling program. But don't delay, often these programs only last for the first few weeks following the holidays. The best part is they usually do all the heavy work for you, too.

2. Recycle It Yourself

Several organizations—such as the Boy Scouts, game & fishery depts., zoos and animal sanctuaries—accept trees from those looking to recycle them and personally repurpose or recycle them themselves.

Check out Earth911, it's a helpful resource to find a suitable recycling option near you.

3. Compost It

If you have access to a wood chipper, your unwanted Christmas tree can be easily transformed into excellent compost material.

For those without a compost pile, your Christmas tree’s branches are perfect for starting one. A 5-inch stack of thin evergreen branches makes for a great compost base, allowing plenty of airflow for a productive bin or pile. Then, simply add your compostable items like kitchen scraps on top and you’re good to go.

4. Return It To Nature

For those in rural areas, returning your tree to nature by placing it somewhere on your land is also an option. Not only will this provide food and housing for wildlife, but the tree’s needles can be harvested for an effective, slow-to-decompose mulch.

Sinking your tree in a pond or lake on your property is another eco-friendly option that will greatly benefit wildlife. Firstly, Christmas trees promote algae growth thereby providing food for the fishies. Secondly, they double as excellent cover and shelter for aquatic life. Of course, other ponds and lakes not on your land will also work, just make sure you get permission first. Lastly, before going this route, absolutely double check that your tree has not been pre-treated with chemicals or preservatives, as these can be extremely damaging to aquatic ecosystems.

5. Re-Use It

If recycling isn’t really possible, don’t worry, there are dozens of planet-friendly ways to repurpose your tree, too.

Why not upgrade your garden game with a little mulch? Christmas tree branches and needles make for amazing mulch because they dry quickly and don’t easily wash away with rain or wind like other options do. It’s not just the branches and needles either, the stump can be ground into chips for additional mulch as well.

Need outdoor firewood? Your old Christmas tree can help there, too. Because of their physical makeup, only use Christmas tree branches outdoors, as they’re a little too volatile and sparky to safely burn indoors. Finally, allow your tree to thoroughly dry out before burning it and under no condition burn chemically-treated trees, as they can produce toxic fumes when lit.

Jonathan Patrick