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4 Ways to Recycle Your Christmas Tree

4 Ways to Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Real Christmas trees are sustainably produced on farms in North America and they are 100% recyclable. Because they are 100% natural and biodegradable, there are many different ways to recycle your real Christmas tree once the holiday season has ended. Many towns offer local pickup services that will grind or chip the tree into mulch, compost, or biomass. However, in some regions of North America, there are special programs that use Christmas trees to have other positive impacts on the environment.

Rebuilding the Louisiana Coastline

Sailors assigned to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202 and civilians with the Environmental Division at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, place recycled Christmas trees at "E" Beach at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. The recycled trees are used to preserve sand dunes and prevent erosion. (Photo by: Seaman Tamekia Perdue) Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Sailors assigned to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202 and civilians with the Environmental Division at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, place recycled Christmas trees at “E” Beach at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. The recycled trees are used to preserve sand dunes and prevent erosion. (Photo by Seaman Tamekia Perdue)

It’s estimated that the state of Louisiana loses between 25 and 35 square miles of coastal wetlands per year. Since 1986, 1.5 million Christmas trees have been recycled on the Louisiana coastline of Jefferson Parish. The trees are stacked to assemble a fence-like structure to combat erosion and slow wave action. This tree recycling program is estimated to have restored between 250 and 300 acres of marshland. There are currently about 8 miles worth of Christmas tree fences in this program.

Sand Dune Restoration

In recent years, devastating hurricanes on the east coast washed away protective sand dunes. For coastal towns, sand dunes are frequently the first line of defense against storms. The dunes protect backyards and basements from rising ocean waters. Some localities are using Christmas trees to help restore the sand dunes.

The Christmas trees are laid horizontally on the beach in piles, which forces sand to accumulate around them, so grass can grow. Over time, this will ultimately restore the sand dunes that were washed away during the storm and the trees will naturally decompose through biodegradation.

Bird Sanctuaries

In Illinois, herons and egrets have been forced from their native habitat by development. In 2000, a manmade rookery was built at Baker’s Lake Forest Preserve just outside of Chicago, offering native birds a place to nest. About 300-400 recycled Christmas trees are added to it each winter. The rookery is a tall, vertical structure on a small island at the lake. The Christmas trees hang from the rookery to provide shelter and privacy.

Pickup

Across North America, the Boy Scouts have partnered with local communities to host Christmas tree recycling programs. Programs like these are frequently used as fundraisers to support local chapters to pick up your tree in exchange for a small donation. However, many cities offer free pickup as well. Most often trees picked up in this manner are grinded into wood chips, biomass, or made into compost.

Remember to remove all decorations, lights, ornaments, and tinsels from the tree before donating it. For additional tree pickup services in the United States, consider using this handy recycling search tool by Earth911 listed at the bottom of this page.

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(Above photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license)

Christmas Tree Farms

Christmas Tree Farms

As this holiday season begins we’re exciting to be sharing some sustainable industry practices from the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA). Each year since 1966, the NCTA has provided the real Christmas tree that is on display at the White House Blue Room. Christmas tree farms are sustainable and real Christmas trees can be recycled into many of the same wood by-products as wood packaging materials.

Christmas tree farm in Iowa. Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Christmas tree farm in Iowa. Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Christmas trees are harvested, on average, 7-8 years after they’re planted and younger trees sequester a great deal of carbon from the atmosphere. Each year that a tree is harvested from a Christmas tree farm, another tree is planted in its place. Tree stumps are grinded to make space available for new trees to flourish. Grindings from wood stumps can be used to make garden mulch, outdoor walkway paths, or compost. Christmas tree farms are incredibly sustainable. Very little goes to waste!

Over the years, the NCTA has kept a close eye on the industry’s performance. They estimate that there are on average, between 25 – 30 million real Christmas trees sold in the United States every year and there are approximately 310 million Christmas trees currently growing on nearly 13,000 farms across the United States.

Artificial v. Real Christmas Trees

Most people choose artificial trees simply because there are no fallen needles to pick up. Many people also believe that artificial trees are more environmentally friendly than real trees. However, many artificial trees are made with PVC plastic and are non-recyclable. In other words, there is no other way to recycle an artificial Christmas tree once it has reached the end of its life. Additionally, there are questionable practices surrounding the production of PVC. According to a report published by Greenpeace UK, the production of PVC can emit carcinogens such as dioxin, ethylene dichloride, and vinyl chloride.

Real Christmas trees are carbon neutral, they’re safe for indoor use, and they’re recyclable. The selection process alone is a cherished and time-honored tradition among many families. Purchasing a real Christmas tree is a much more environmentally responsible decision. Farm-grown Christmas trees are sustainable.

Selecting the Best Christmas Tree

The NCTA encourages everyone to shop early for the best selection no matter where they live. Always request a fresh cut at the base of the tree’s trunk before you bring it home.  Then, once you get home, immediately place the tree trunk in a bucket of water particularly if the tree is not going to be placed in its stand for a while. For best results and a longer lasting beautiful real Christmas tree, always keep the tree watered throughout the holiday season.

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Christmas Trees in the White House

Christmas Trees in the White House

Two weeks ago the United States held its 58th quadrennial presidential election and on January 20th, 2017, president-elect Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated into office. Each year for the past 93 years, the President of the United States has decorated the White House with two real Christmas trees. One is outside for public display and the second is traditionally hosted in the Blue Room within the White House.

The White House serves as a backdrop for the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The White House serves as a backdrop for the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy). Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Each year, the National Park Foundation and National Park Service present the National Christmas Tree Lighting outdoors at the White House. This tradition dates back to 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit a 48-foot fir tree decorated with 2,500 red, white, and green lights as a “quartet” from the U.S. Marine Corps Band performed. Although not every president since 1923 has lit a Christmas tree at the White House, many presidents have, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Truman, President Eisenhower, President Carter, President Reagan, President George W. Bush, and President Obama.

In 1963, President Lyndon Johnson delayed lighting the Christmas tree to respect the thirty days of mourning following the death of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd. That year, the tree was lit on December 22nd.

Decorating the Tree

In 1954, a company called Hargrove, Inc., owned by Earl Hargrove, began decorating the National Christmas Tree. That year, there was a 60-foot-tall tree and the National Park Service erected several stories of staging to help them decorate it. At the time, however, stringed Christmas tree lights didn’t exist. According the National Park Service, Hargrove “manually installed sockets every foot on several hundred feet of wire and screwed in and tested every bulb. When a bulb became finicky, Hargrove would climb up and fix them in a Santa costume!” Hargrove, Inc. continues to decorate the National Christmas Tree at the White House.

Lighting the Tree

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, children began to help the President light the Christmas tree. In 1983, President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan recruited the help of seven-year-old Amy Bentham. National Park Service records show that “Amy had written to the ‘Make a Wish’ program, saying ‘The Christmas tree that lights up our country must be seen all the way to heaven. I would wish so much to help the President turn on those Christmas lights.’” Since then, several presidents have recruited children to help them light the tree.

Making Trees Energy Efficient

2007 was the first year the White House lit the National Christmas Tree with LED Christmas lights, making the tree more energy efficient. The 2008 National Christmas Tree was 50 percent more energy efficient than the previous year. In 2015, the White House honored the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016 with specially themed Christmas Tree.

Blue Room Tree

Every year since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) has presented the White House with its official Christmas Tree for display in the Blue Room. The NCTA holds a contest in which growers, industry experts, and consumers vote to choose the grower that will provide the White House with a Christmas Tree. The 2016 White House Christmas Tree, a 19-foot tall balsam fir, was selected on September 27th from Whispering Tree Farms in Oconto, Wisconsin. It’s considered a very high honor to be selected to supply the White House with a Christmas Tree.

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The History of Christmas Trees in North America

The History of Christmas Trees in North America

Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Real Christmas trees are recyclable. They are often repurposed into mulch for garden use or the biomass can be converted to energy at cogeneration plants. As North America prepares for the holiday season, we want to take a moment to consider the history of Christmas trees in North America.

Early in American history, Christmas trees were abhorred for religious purposes but are now widely popular. In this article, we’ll discuss how Christmas trees evolved into a staple of the North American Christmas tradition.

Trees that remain green all year long have historically held special meaning for people around the world. The Germans are credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century. However, the Christmas tree tradition wasn’t widely adopted in the United States until much later. New England Puritans believed Christmas was sacred and celebrating the holiday with decorations was considered a mockery of faith. In fact, the General Court of Massachusetts enforced a law in 1659 that fined people for hanging decorations on December 25th. This continued until the 19th century, when the popularity of Christmas trees exploded.

Rising Popularity

In 1846, Queen Victoria and German Price Albert were sketched in the London News with their children standing around a Christmas tree. Queen Victoria was very popular and the things she did often became very fashionable in Britain and East Coast American society. As the image spread, eventually the number of people who wanted Christmas trees outnumbered the Puritans; and decorating homes with Christmas trees became a widely accepted practice in the United States.

Tree Decorations

In the early 20th century, people mostly decorated their trees with homemade ornaments, apples, nuts, or marzipan cookies. At one point, popcorn was dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts for decorations. Then, electricity paved the way for Christmas lights.

1917 Halifax Explosion

When German settlers migrated to Canada in the 1700’s, they brought with them the Christmas traditions we celebrate today, including gingerbread houses, cookies, Advent calendars, and, of course, Christmas trees. When Queen Victoria made Christmas trees fashionable, it quickly spread to Canada as well and they embraced the tradition as well.

On December 6, 1917, there was a terrible accident in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Two ships collided at the harbor. The accident killed about 2,000 people and destroyed nearly half of the city. Boston relief workers were the first to arrive on scene, despite being delayed 24 hours due to a blizzard. They sent medical supplies, doctors, and nurses in response to the accident.

The following Christmas in 1918, Nova Scotia sent a Christmas tree to Boston, Massachusetts thanking them for their aid during the accident. The practice, however, lapsed several years until it returned in 1971. Every year since 1971, Nova Scotia has sent Boston a Christmas tree from their province. They felt especially connected to the tradition in light of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. 2016 will be the 45th consecutive year that Nova Scotia has sent Boston a Christmas tree.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was placed in 1931 by construction workers at the center of a construction site. It was said to be small and undecorated. Two years later, another tree was placed in the same spot, except this time with Christmas tree lights. Between 1931 and 2016, the only year there was not a Christmas tree at Rockefeller center was 1932. Historically, the trees were donated, and the predominant species is Norway Spruce. However, in more recent years garden managers hand-select a Norway Spruce from neighboring states, even Canada. To date, the infamous Rockefeller Center tree is decorated with more than 25,000 lights. It normally arrives on Veterans Day.

At present, it’s very common for North American cities of all sizes to host Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Events like these tend to draw large crowds as tree lighting ceremonies have become culturally significant in North America and in many countries around the world.

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