Ditched on the curb, old Christmas trees have a future

There are all sorts of ways to recycle Christmas trees: Mulch. Sand dune retainers. Even crappie fishermen get in on it.

Is there anything more melancholy than a used Christmas tree, tossed out on the curb? They're all over the streets this week, but they don't all go to waste.

If you're an Arkansas fisherman, you don't get sad at the sight of a dried-up Christmas tree. You get excited. Brett Hobbs, a fisheries biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, told me people drop their trees near boat launches and fishermen take them.

"You group them into bundles and weight them appropriately and sink them to the bottom," he says.

Then you wait for the fish.

"In the case of bass or crappie, it gives them feeding stations and it also gives the fisherman a place they can go find the fish," he says.

Along the East Coast, used Christmas trees keep beaches in place. Justin Barnes is a park ranger at Jockey's Ridge State Park in North Carolina. It's home to a huge 90-foot sand dune.

"The view from the top of the ridge is just incredible," he says. "Kids love to slide down the hill."

Sand loves to slide, too, so rangers line up ranks of Christmas trees behind the dune, to keep it from spilling outside park boundaries.

"You know lots of little branches and stems and limbs and things catch and trap sand," Barnes says.

I learned all kinds of uses for Christmas trees from the authorities on the subject, the National Christmas Tree Association. The association says Americans buy about 30 million evergreens for the holidays. Public relations manager Rick Dungey says more municipalities now collect them and grind them up.

"Many different parks use them for trail systems, mulching for trees," he says.

You may not even know your old tree's being put to use. Dungey says many people think they're tossing the tree in the trash. But chances are it's going into a separate pile, and getting a new life.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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