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Posted January 16, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Tree-cycle: Community programs allow for reuse of evergreens, live garland

At the Clearbrook recycling site Christmas trees sit in a pile waiting to be recycled. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Linwood Outlaw III -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- The gifts have long been unwrapped. The ornaments and lights are back in storage.

Christmas has come and gone, but many people may still be wondering how to make good use of their trees in its aftermath. Between 25 million and 30 million real trees are sold in the United States annually, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Because authentic trees are biodegradable, experts say they can be put to good use in a variety of ways other than simply being hauled off with the rest of the trash.

There are at least 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs throughout the country, according to the tree association. Authentic trees support life in general by absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases while they're growing. They also help preserve green spaces. Among the top selling trees are balsam firs, Douglas firs, Scotch pines, white pines, Virginia pines and noble firs.

One commonly known benefit of recycling trees is to produce more mulch for gardening purposes, said Michael Neese, Winchester's recycling coordinator.

Mulch, Neese said, prevents weed growth and "protects the soil from erosion." Mulches are also used to reduce compacting from the impact of heavy rains, keep fruits and vegetables clean, and provide a more even soil temperature, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mulch conserves moisture and reduces the need for frequent watering.

Additionally, trees can also be broken down to make bark chips to round out garden beds, Neese said.

Environmentalists also encourage people to convert their Christmas trees into habitats for wildlife. Residents may simply decorate the trees with snacks and place them in their backyard for animals to enjoy, though Neese says such methods are usually applied in more rural areas.

"Making trees into habitats for wildlife usually isn't done as much in the city," he said.

About 93 percent of consumers who purchased a real Christmas tree recycled it in some type of community program each year, according to results from a national survey posted on the Web site Earth911.com, which has a database containing information about more than 100,000 recycling programs in the country.

The survey showed authentic trees are recycled for five main types of large-scale uses, including chipping, beachfront erosion prevention, fish habitat, lake and river shoreline stabilization, and river delta sedimentation management. For every real Christmas tree harvested, up to three seedlings are planted in its place the following spring, according to Earth911.com. More than 60 million new seedlings were planted by Christmas tree farmers across North America this year.

Authentic trees, according to the tree association, are highly recommended as opposed to petroleum-based artificial trees, which are mostly imported from China. The average family uses artificial trees for about six to nine years before throwing them away. Environmental experts say artificial trees could remain in a landfill for many years after disposal. Such trees are also known to contain metal toxins such as lead.

Front Royal officials wrapped up their curbside Christmas tree collection program on Wednesday and are suspending yard waste collection operations until March 18.

Winchester officials also wrapped up curbside tree pickups on Wednesday, but residents can still drop off cut trees and other greens at convenience sites and the Landfill Citizens' Center in Frederick County, except Greenwood Road, from now until the end of this month, Neese said. All trees and garland must be free of wire, decorations and tinsel before being turned in.

The county has convenience sites in Albin, Clearbrook, Gainesboro, Shawneeland, Round Hill, Middletown, and at Double Toll Gate. County officials will ground the trees into mulch to be reused at the landfill. Residents in Shenandoah County can take their cut trees to the recycling center at 349 Landfill Road in Edinburg. The center excepts brush, wood products, lumber and yard waste such as leaves or grass clippings.

For more information and site locations, visit www.co.frederick.va.us or www.shenandoahcountyva.us.

*Contact Linwood Outlaw III at loutlaw@nvdaily.com

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