‘Tis the Season to Treecycle

Recycling your extravagant evergreens.

Photo courtesy of Chichos Pizza

When it comes to the holiday season, the worst part is when it’s over. Or is it? Once the festivities and family antics have finally come to an end, you’ll be deciding the fate of your beloved Christmas tree. This year, rather than toting your tree to the local landfill, think about giving it a serviceable second life within your community. As the National Christmas Tree Association mentions on its website, “real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource.” 

Across Virginia, various organizations and companies offer treecycling programs that can help impact our lives, as well as the environment and wildlife. Many zoos, restaurants, and waste services accept used Christmas trees after the new year and repurpose them in many unique ways.

Preventing Erosion

Christmas trees can also be used to prevent coastal erosion when they’re buried in sand dunes. According to the NCTA, used trees make effective barriers for stabilizing shorelines, allowing the dune system to improve over time after severe storms on the coast.

Chicho’s Pizza Oceanfront restaurant in Virginia Beach collects Christmas trees the first couple weeks in January for dune restoration each year. With the helping hands of many volunteers, they’re able to bury donated trees in Virginia Beach to help prevent Virginia residents from losing their homes and beloved seaside hangouts. Volunteers for this program also trek down the North Carolina coast and throughout the Outer Banks to help out other coastal communities. This season they are hoping to open their Christmas tree drive to all five Chicho’s locations in eastern Virginia. Their goal is to collect 1,000 recycled trees. Check their Facebook page for updates on this upcoming project. ChichosPizza.com

Sinking used trees into ponds, rivers, and lakes can also benefit the environment as they act as barriers to prevent local soil erosion. Although this tends to be more common in other states, recycled trees can help stabilize freshwater shorelines in Virginia as well. Not only this, but they also help improve fish habitats.

Photo courtesy of The Virginia Living Museum

Wildlife Enrichment

A few zoos in Virginia take Christmas tree donations each year to further enrich the lives of the animals within their care. These donations provide animals new environmental resources to interact with, appealing to their sense of playfulness or nesting instincts.

Virginia Living Museum in Newport News accepts tree donations after the holidays, giving them to various animals such as otters, red wolves, coyotes, foxes, and vultures. “Once we are sure that any decorations have been removed for safety purposes, we make the trees accessible to our animals to encourage natural behaviors,” says VLM enrichment and training coordinator Carrie Bridgman. “Some of the animals investigate them thoroughly, engaging their olfactory senses with the rich aroma of the needles, and proceed to roll on or brush against them. Some pull them apart or drag them around as a way to play. Others hide behind or among the branches and use them as shelter.” TheVLM.org

Trees accepted at the Metro Richmond Zoo are also placed inside wildlife exhibits, particularly within big cat and bear exhibits. General manager Justin Andelin says the animals “love to rub on them and rip them to pieces. Christmas trees and other objects or even toys make for great enrichment items where the animals get an opportunity to explore, feel, and smell even move new objects in their environment.” MetroRichmondZoo.com

Photo courtesy of One Little Project

To give back to the wildlife community a little closer to home, the NCTA suggests placing used trees in a backyard or nearby garden to create local birds feeders and sanctuaries. Want to go the extra mile? Decorate your recycled trees with edible treats. “Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds, and they can sit in the branches for shelter,” says the National Christmas Tree Association website. RealChristmasTrees.org

We even suggest creating your own birdseed ornaments to give the birds their own festive fun this holiday season. Discover how to make these colorful decorative pieces on the One Little Project blog. OneLittleProject.com

Friendly fertilizer

Many waste service providers throughout the Commonwealth are helping residents return their Christmas trees back to the soil. Composting and mulching programs in Virginia are the most popular amongst recycling efforts, and probably the most handy services to have nearby. Contact your waste company or public works department to find out what services are available to you this year.

Republic Services in northern Virginia collects used trees during the two weeks after Christmas, transporting them to the Loudoun Composting facility. STA certified, this facility complies with the Consumer Compost Use Program, allowing the safe production of reusable compost fertilizer that benefits natural soil, as well as the earth’s atmosphere. This collaborative effort between Republic Services and Loudoun Composting is helping to reduce the production of greenhouse gases made my landfills. LoudounComposting.com

The City of Richmond Department of Public Works and the Richmond Clean City Commission host a treecycling event every year called Bring One for the Chipper. This mulching event has started to become very popular in the community over the past 10 years, and will continue this season. A few people who donate their Christmas trees decide to stay for the chipping process, held annually at Parker Field Annex. “Each year the crowds get larger, which means more and more residents are making an effort to protect our environment and reduce our carbon footprint,” said DPW recycling coordinator Darlene Mallory in last year’s event press release. Visit the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority website for updates on this upcoming event. CVWMA.com 

After your Christmas tree has finished bringing you joy over the holiday season, think about giving it a second life beyond the dump. Before tossing out your tree, reach out to your community to discover more unique ways you can put these renewable resources to better use.

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