(NEXSTAR) – Like so many stale fruitcakes in the last week of December, America’s Christmas trees often find themselves thrown away with the trash in the days following the holiday.
Unlike a stale fruitcake, however, discarded Christmas trees can still serve a number of useful purposes after reaching their natural expiration dates.
Tim O’Connor, the executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, said Christmas trees can easily be recycled, repurposed or donated, and he considers each option much better than simply trashing the tree.
“There’s no reason to fill up the landfill with Christmas trees,” O’Connor told Nexstar. “If it ends up in a landfill, it’s taking up that space unnecessarily because it is biodegradable and decomposable.”
There are “so many better options” than tossing it in the garbage, said O’Connor, who recommended alternatives such as composting or mulching the tree.
Just outside of Denver, in O’Connor’s neck of the woods, residents can drop off their trees with the parks department, where they will be converted to mulch for the community or the city’s landscaping needs. Many municipalities or local organizations, he said, will even arrange for pick-up, depending on where you live.
“The easiest way to find [your city’s tree-recycling options] is by searching online. But the parks department, or public works, or the local trash pick-up services may know where it’s being done, even if they’re not the ones handling it,” he said.
Aside from mulch, O’Connor said he was aware of several uses for old trees, which include everything from controlling erosion levels to shoring up undersea habitats or reefs.
Plenty of zoos, such as the Topeka Zoo in Topeka, Kansas, also gives the trees to animals to play with for enrichment purposes.
“You can go online and watch videos of elephants playing with the trees,” O’Connor said. “It’s pretty funny.”
Some of the animals, like goats or elephants, even enjoy snacking on discarded or leftover trees — something that probably can’t be said for those crusty old fruitcakes.
“There are so many ways to give the trees a second purpose,” said O’Connor. “Whereas if it goes into a landfill, it has no other purpose.”