Environment

Christmas is over, but your tree can have a second life

Christmas trees can be “treecycled” and converted into mulch, bird and fish habitats or barriers to beach and soil erosion.
Christmas trees can be “treecycled” and converted into mulch, bird and fish habitats or barriers to beach and soil erosion. Lexington

The holidays may be over, but your Christmas tree can enjoy a second life if you recycle it.

Do your part to save the planet and don’t let the Fraser fir that lent festive beauty and an arresting aroma to your home wind up in one of our packed, methane-producing landfills.   

When you take your tree down and store the ornaments until next year, think twice about the environmentally responsible options for disposal.

“A Christmas tree is a living plant so it has many other uses even if it just decomposes naturally,” said Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. “We know fake Christmas trees will last 1,000 years in a landfill. So the people who don’t want to use a plastic straw at Starbucks realize there are benefits to recycling a real tree.”

Trees can be used as barriers to prevent soil and beach erosion and replenish sand dunes. Nearly 1.5 million Christmas trees have been placed along the Louisiana coastline to restore hurricane-battered marshland. They create habitats for fish when sunk into lakes and ponds. Donated trees provide protection and food for baby coho salmon in an Oregon river. At a heron rookery in Illinois, recycled trees are used to build nesting structures. They’re good for composting. In rural areas, a Christmas tree hauled to the woods will return to the land like other fallen trees.

Animals at some sanctuaries, zoos and farms love playing with or eating the trees. Cindy Lewis of Lewis Farms and Petting Zoo in New Era, Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press that her twin goats  named Bubba and Gump  like munching on the needles. Deer devour them, too.

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Asian elephants Louise and Frosja pick pieces of red paprika hanging from a Christmas tree at Tierpark Berlin zoo on Jan. 4, 2019, in Berlin, Germany. Zookeepers provided post-Christmas snacks to the zoo’s elephants, macaques and tigers. Sean Gallup Getty Images

Crafty Martha Stewart suggests placing the boughs in flower arrangements. Or make a wreath adorned with edible treats for birds; cover pine cones with peanut butter and roll them in birdseed. Create scented sachets by filling muslin bags with needles. Garlands and centerpieces are other possibilities.

The most common destiny for Christmas trees is a run through the wood chipper. They make excellent moisture-free mulch, which can be used in parks, on trails and in your yard.

“You smell that nice pine scent when you do your landscaping,” said Frank Calderon, communications manager for Miami-Dade County’s Department of Solid Waste Management. “The Christmas season lives on.”

Miami-Dade is accepting trees from county residents at 10 of its Trash and Recycling Centers, from Golden Glades to Moody Drive, and its West Miami-Dade Home Chemical Collection Center. Fresh mulch will be available for free in February at selected centers; check the county’s website and bring your own bag or container.

“We encourage residents to be green and bring trees to our TRCs,” Calderon said. “They must be clean and stripped of all ornaments, tinsel, stands and plastic bags. No flocked trees.”

Trees picked up curbside by the county will go to the Resource Recovery Facility in Doral, where they will be burned and converted into steam energy that powers the plant and 50,000 homes. You can also cut up your tree and put it in your green garbage cart.

Many cities will collect trees for mulching from neighborhood trash piles if you remove all decorations and separate them from yard waste. In Coral Gables, condo and apartment residents can bring their trees to the Youth Center parking lot for recycling. Check your city’s website or Earth911.

The Broward County Parks and Recreation Division offers its Chip-A-Tree program at 13 parks through Jan. 14. Bring your tree to the park (you won’t be charged an entrance fee for dropping off your tree), and follow signs to the chipping area, open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We have lots of uses for the mulch,” said Senior Park Manager Debbie Battista. Last year, 5,100 trees were recycled, an amount that accounted for 15 percent of Broward Parks’ greenhouse gas reduction efforts in 2017.

If you’re wondering if it’s ecologically healthier in the long run to own an artificial tree instead of discarding real trees year after year, it is not — although it is cheaper. Prices for real Christmas trees have risen in recent years because farmers planted fewer trees during the 2008 recession, resulting in tight inventory and high demand.

“It takes seven to 10 years to grow a tree, so we are now in the third year where the industry is profitable again after a challenging period when growers lost money or went out of business,” O’Connor said.

You may save money by buying a $100 fake tree instead of a $75 real tree, but you will be adding plastic to our plastic-swaddled environment.

Artificial trees are made in China of petroleum-based PVC, steel and copper and cannot be “treecycled.”

“Lots of people have moved to fake trees for convenience, but it’s not a sustainable practice and it’s going to be under increasing scrutiny,” O’Connor said.

Real trees preserve farmland, stabilize soil, emit oxygen, provide local jobs and keep junk out of landfills. They’re usually planted on rolling terrain that doesn’t support other crops. And they smell like nothing else on earth.

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