Despite what some TV pundits want you to believe, Christmas is still a massive celebration for tens of millions of people in the United States. Many families follow Charlie Brown’s advice and believe that a Christmas tree is an important part of this festive time. Each year, about 25 to 30 million living Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. Most of these trees come from about 16 species of tree, and are planted and grown by farmers. For a few weeks these trees become staples in the holiday spirit. Decorative lights and ornaments transform the green plant into a declaration of love, which soon becomes the backdrop for annual family photos, and serves as an umbrella for gifts. But ultimately, unless you’re recycling an artificial tree, as the New Year ushers in, so does the responsibility of disposing of your tree.
However, what’s often overlooked is that these trees can be recycled to benefit your home, community or even local wildlife. Here are a few easy ways to recycle your Christmas tree and keep the spirit of giving alive for days to come.
Build a Wildlife Brush Shelter
A wildlife brush shelter is often constructed from leaves, logs, and twigs, which coincidentally Christmas trees have. This recycling method is the easiest way to reuse your tree if you have a yard.
Brush piles add an interesting and important element to your backyard wildlife habitat, and attract a wide variety of critters who may otherwise feel uncomfortable. Providing this dense, heavy and secure shelter close to the ground lets these animals have shelter and a place to scope out food that they could otherwise miss.
Decorate the Tree to Feed Local Wildlife
If you have a yard, then consider putting your tree outside because Christmas tree can make excellent bird habitats. First, remove all of the decorations and take special care to extract all of the tinsel and flocking. Afterward, secure the tree by using the stand or stakes and twine. The last step is to provide the birds with food by hanging strings of popcorn and fresh fruit, or making pine cone bird feeders, and using suet holders.
Donate to a Local Restoration Project
Logged trees can assist nature restoration projects in various ways. Before you decide on one of the below options, check with your state’s Department of Natural Resources to see if they have a need for your Christmas trees, and what local regulations pertain to their reuse.
One reuse option is to place cut-up pieces of a Christmas tree in ponds or rivers to become habitats for fish to hide and live in. If this is a path you’re interested in taking then remove every decoration before placing the tree in the water. It’s crucial that the tree is free of tinsel (fish will try and eat the tinsel and can die), and that it has not been flocked or treated in any other way because these treatments contain chemicals that can be harmful to fish and other aquatic critters.
Otherwise, consider donating your tree to a restorative NGO that does local community projects, like the National Wildlife Federation, because Christmas trees can be used to help reduce erosion on shorelines of oceans, lakes or rivers. The branches and trunk provide barriers against wind and the tide, which help reduce the amount of sand that washes or blows away. Tree logs and branches are also great at rebuilding areas affected by hurricanes or typhoons, because the barrier traps sand deposits that would otherwise be washed away.
Insulate a Garden
If you take the time to cut off all the branches, then a Christmas tree’s trunk makes an excellent tool to line a garden and serve as a barrier against soil erosion. You can also strategically cut and place the tree trunk to create resting spots for birds, squirrels and other local animals. A well maintained garden can boost home values and you will be thankful, should you decide to move to a new home and sell yours.
Another option is to insulate your garden plants from cold winter temperatures. Trimming off whole evergreen boughs and placing them on perennial beds or nursery rows can protect the plants from winter freezes and the impending spring thaws. The boughs act as an excellent insulator by providing shelter and loft, as needed.
Shred the Tree into Mulch
Mulch is a great additive to kick-start a garden or keep it going strong through winter. Rather then working with a removal company to recycle the tree, do it yourself! The material helps help regulate soil temperatures, prevents water loss, keeps weeds at bay and protects plants from colder temperatures. If you have access to a wood chipper then turning a tree into mulch is easy. But since that’s not feasible for most of us, look at your community and local government for resources. Many towns and cities have tree-recycling programs, where threes can be dropped off at a designated point to be collected and then put through wood chippers and used as mulch for plants in community parks and gardens. Your local government website should have information about this, but you can also find local recycling programs through Earth911’s recycling database.