Birds Will Enjoy Your
Residents of the North Carolina coast can give native plants a boost, strengthen sand dunes or reduce oil consumption by simply recycling their Christmas trees.
Not all Christmas tree recycling programs are created equal, though, and if you want to assure that recycling you tree enhances the coastal environment, you should first find out what will happen to your tree.
Most recycling programs, for instance, will process the used trees into mulch, which may be used in private gardens and public parks where it will aid plant life and stabilize the soil to prevent stormwater runoff. Some mulch, however, is used for entirely different purposes. New Hanover County, for example, contracts with a company called Diversified BioMass.
“We will pick them up and take them to Diversified BioMass,” said Lynn Bestul, the county’s solid waste planner. “They’ll mulch it and use it for boiler fuel.”
The county, he noted, has three drop-off locations: Myrtle Grove Middle School, Ogden Park, and the county landfill at U.S 421-North.
Recycled trees are commonly used along the coast to preserve sand dunes, but don’t consider randomly tossing it onto a beach.
“Please,” said Melanie Doyle, a conservation horticulturist with the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, “do not take your tree and dump it on a beach.”
She noted that the aquarium once collected used trees, and with sand fencing, use them to create dunes. But Christmas trees don’t grow, Doyle said. To fortify sand dunes, you need living plants with fibrous roots, she explained.
But the trees can be used to shield living plants from wind, thus helping them take root.
Three state parks — Fort Macon in Atlantic Beach, Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head and Hammocks Beach in Swansboro – will collect trees for use on their shorelines. Trees can be dropped off at any time during normal park hours.
Justin Barnes, a ranger at Jockey’s Ridge, said the park tries not to over-manage the dunes. “We don’t want to impede (a dune’s) natural process,” he said, adding that park uses the trees to fortify “problem areas,” where sand is trying to escape the dune.
At 92 feet, the tallest sand dune on the Atlantic coast is in Jockey’s Ridge, but recycled Christmas trees are used on it or the park’s main dunes. “We don’t put trees on those,” Barnes said. “This year, we’re looking at an area where the sand is starting to approach some private property, adjacent to the park. It’s advanced about six or seven feet into their backyard, and what we’re doing is building a dune inside the park boundary to (impede that encroachment).”
Like Doyle, Barnes cautioned against the practice of just dumping a tree onto a beach. “You want to be careful in park settings (and not) introduce something foreign,” he said. “You don’t want to introduce species that don’t belong. Technically, that’s litter, and we try to employ a little bit better management style to the process than just tossing them.
“We don’t advertise it too much,” he added of the park’s recycling of the trees. “It’s basically a word-of-mouth thing. Towns will call (about trees they’ve collected through their own recycling programs) and what we’ve always done is to stack them up in our parking lot until we’re ready.”
While the rangers prefer to use the trees to build up problem areas along the dunes, they do, on occasion chip them up into mulch for use in the park. “We try to use as many of the trees as we can,” Barnes said.
The N.C. Aquarium at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head also has a Christmas tree recycling program. Like those at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the trees are placed on the nearby dunes. According to Daryl Law, the aquarium’s assistant manager and public relations officer, it’s important to understand that the trees alone are not the answer to dune erosion.
“If you really want the trees to act as a wind block or a sand block,” he said, “you have to use them in conjunction with sand fencing. They go hand in hand.”
The recycling program began last year and, Law said, was very successful program. You can drop them off in the pier’s parking lot.
Beach towns also have tree recycling programs. Topsail Beach, for example, has a recycling program that allows residents to drop off tree at town property on the corner of Davis and Anderson streets. Trees can be taken there immediately after Christmas and for the first few weeks in January.
Holden Beach will also use your old trees for beach nourishment. Drop them off next to the town’s Recycling Center under the water tower.
Check with your town or county to see if they have a recycling program for old Christmas trees.