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