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Christmas trees can be good for the environment

Old trees can be ground into mulch or used as fish shelters in ponds, said Joe Heimlich, a waste management specialist at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Old trees can be ground into mulch or used as fish shelters in ponds, said Joe Heimlich, a waste management specialist at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

December 29, 1998
Web posted at: 10:20 AM EST

By Environmental News Network staff

(ENN) -- Before discarding that Christmas tree in the trash after the holiday season has run its course, consider putting it to good use for the environment.

Old trees can be ground into mulch or used as fish shelters in ponds, said Joe Heimlich, a waste management specialist at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

"Waste management districts, 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.

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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.

"People can call their solid waste district or community office, or an urban forester in the parks and recreation department if they have one, to see if a chipping program is available in their area," Heimlich said.

If a chipping program is not available, the trees could be used as artificial fish attractors in ponds or reservoirs. Many ponds and reservoirs contain little or no natural underwater structures for fish because the waterways were originally cleared for boating, natural structures have decayed with age and fluctuating water levels prevent growth of underwater vegetation. Without these structures, fish often are dispersed and hard to catch.

Sinking cut Christmas trees into ponds and reservoirs causes fish to concentrate in these areas and 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.

You should get permission from the pond owner before placing trees in a pond, Heimlich said, and contact the state Division of Wildlife for permission and direction before placing structures in reservoirs.

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. People also should get permission before placing trees in natural areas.

However, people disposing of trees in any of these manners 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 gingerbread men and popcorn or cranberries strung with natural string or thread instead of fish line or nylon thread, can be left on trees to provide food for birds and other animals.

Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved


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