December 29th, 2011 by

By Katrina Marland

(Credit: Flickr/GeraldEngland)

If you had a real Christmas tree this year, you probably enjoyed the fresh pine scent and gorgeous foliage throughout your holiday. With Christmas over, and the decorations coming down any day, you’re probably trying to figure out what to do with that tree. Which means you need to know more about one important word: treecycling.

Each area has different programs, so if you have a real tree, be sure to find out what options your town has for recycling it. One great resource is the database of programs listed at earth911.com. Here are just a few of the many ways used Christmas trees are getting a second life.

First, there’s the traditional route — countless trees (Christmas and otherwise) get recycled into mulch each year. Since that mulch is used to help other plants and trees grow, there’s a nice poetic justice to that method. But there are a lot of other uses for your Christmas tree, and some of them may surprise you.

It’s fairly common knowledge that living trees help to stabilize riverbanks, but did you know recycled Christmas trees can do the same? In England, old Christmas trees are being used to stabilize riverbanks along several rivers throughout Cumbria and Cheshire Counties. Far more affordable and environmentally friendly than the traditional steel, the recycled trees shore up the sandy riverbanks and create a buffer to protect the shores from flooding and erosion.

Around the Gulf, recycled trees are being used to restore a different type of ecosystem: they’re protecting the region’s sand dunes from erosion. And in Louisiana, Christmas trees are being used to create new marsh habitat and prevent shoreline erosion in ecologically sensitive areas, including National Wildlife Refuges.

The holidays are a time when most of us enjoy some great food, so it’s only fitting that Christmas trees can get in on the fun — as the main course, that is. For farmers raising goats, feeding hungry mouths can get expensive. But in some areas, a mutual deal has been struck: the town diverts dozens of Christmas trees from the curb to local farms to become a tasty treat for goats. It’s a win-win because the city doesn’t have to put the trees in a landfill, and farmers save a bundle on feed for their animals.

When they’re still standing, trees provide habitat to many species, and it turns out even recycled trees are for the birds. Wildlife rehab centers can place the trees in aviaries for the birds to perch on or in other enclosures for animals to eat, climb on, or play with.

Recycled Christmas trees can also take on new life providing habitat for fish. What would fish be doing in trees? Fallen trees make up an important part of aquatic habitats, giving fish a place to hide from predators and to lay their eggs. The trees also provide a rich habitat for aquatic insects, which the fish can feed on. These aquatic habitat restoration programs like this are popping up all over the country, from restoring perch habitat in Montana to salmon habitat in Washington and just about everything in between.