Thousands of used trees end up helping the environment
It's one of America's great recycling success stories: Every year, hundreds of thousands of discarded Christmas trees are collected and reused.
New York City's Department of Sanitation collects about 150,000 trees each year and mulches them in a joint program with the Parks Department. The mulch is used in parks, playing fields and community gardens. Residents lucky enough to have their own urban backyards can take home a bag at "Mulchfest" events held around the city. (See sidebar.)
Rockefeller Center is famous for its towering Christmas tree, and for the seventh year in a row, this season's tree will be donated to Habitat for Humanity. The tradition began when the 2007 Rockefeller Center tree went to build a home in Pascagoula, Miss., for a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.
Lumber from the milled Rock Center tree is marked so that the families know its origin. In some years, families that have benefited from the construction have attended the tree-lighting event in Manhattan.
Many beaches also use recycled Christmas trees to protect against erosion. Strategically placed, the trees catch sand and are eventually covered by it, becoming part of the dune system.
A number of beaches at the New Jersey shore were built up using Christmas trees after last year's Superstorm Sandy. Beaches at the Rockaways, which were also devastated by Sandy, benefited from a Christmas tree project as well. The Rockaways effort was sponsored by a California wine company, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly, an E. and J. Gallo Winery brand. Barefoot Wine has been working with the Surfrider Foundation, which promotes ocean protection, on beach cleanups and restorations for seven years. But the Rockaways program was Barefoot's first using recycled trees.
Those who prefer artificial Christmas trees usually don't throw them out after one year. But when the time comes, there's even a program to recycle them. Polygroup, one of Walmart's largest suppliers of artificial Christmas trees, sends them - including lights and electric cords - to a recycling center in China where they are shredded and broken down for reuse in other products. The bad news: Consumers must pack and ship the trees back to Polygroup themselves.