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Using Christmas Trees


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When the holiday season is over, Christmas trees don't have to end up in the trash, according to an Ohio State University waste management specialist.

Holiday trees and other greenery add tons to the solid waste stream in the days and weeks after Christmas. But there are environmentally friendly alternatives to the landfill, said Joe Heimlich, associate professor of natural resources at Ohio State.

“Some communities, in order to extend the life of landfills, are doing what they can to limit the amount of yard waste, including Christmas trees and other greenery, that goes into landfills,” Heimlich said. “Yard waste can sometimes go into landfills, but often local policy keeps it out.”

The most common use for trees after the holidays is in a chipping program. Many communities have a site where trees are delivered on certain days, then ground into chips that are used as a mulch material. Communities can use mulch on park trails, around landscape plantings or as a bulking agent in sludge composting, Heimlich said.

A chipping program can be used as a fund-raising effort, with an organization chipping the trees, selling the mulch and keeping the proceeds.

In some programs, instead of donating the chips to a municipality or fund-raising organization, individuals can take the chips home for their own use. Depending on the situation, the trees may be chipped for free or for a small fee.

If a chipping program is not available, the trees could be used as artificial fish attractors in ponds or reservoirs. Sinking cut Christmas trees into ponds and reservoirs causes fish to concentrate in these areas, which improves fishing. Some fish hide in the branches to escape predators, others feed on snails and aquatic insects found on the structures, and most fish seek the shaded areas during hot and sunny days.

In ponds, the trees commonly are wired to cement blocks and sunk in 6 feet to 10 feet of water. In reservoirs, the trees should be placed in 12 feet to 21 feet of water. In both cases, the trees should be placed away from swimming areas, and the locations should be marked so swimmers and boaters can avoid them.

A simple alternative way to dispose of cut holiday trees is to use them as wildlife cover in fields, forests and other natural settings. Birds, rabbits and other small animals could use them as shelter during winter months, and the trees would eventually decay as any other tree that fell in the area, Heimlich said.

Before placing trees in ponds or natural areas, people need to remove all artificial decorations, hooks and tinsel. “Tinsel is mostly all plastic, which does not digest,” Heimlich said. “If an animal eats too much of it, it could block the intestines.”

Hooks and glass could also harm or even kill wildlife. However, “natural” decorations, such as strung popcorn or cranberries and gingerbread men, can be left on trees to provide food for birds and other animals. #

Contact: Joe Heimlich, (614) 292-6926; Heimlich.1@osu.edu Written by Kyle Sharp, (614) 292-2011; Sharp.44@osu.edu

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