Your Christmas tree looks enchanting when it's decorated with tinsel, candy canes and glittering lights in your living room. But it looks anything but enchanting when it's lying there on the curb outside your house on the day after New Year's, waiting to go into a landfill.
But it's possible to have the holiday spirit and be eco-friendly as well. Numerous communities across the nation are recycling discarded Christmas trees, some of them in ways that actually turn them into an environmental asset instead of a liability.
In West Virginia, for example, the state's Division of Natural Resources and other agencies are collecting trees that will be re-purposed to as underwater habitat for fish, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports.
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Trees are also recycled as fish habitats in Louisiana, Ohio and other states. In Missouri, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began creating such underwater Christmas tree fish shelters back in the 1980s, according to Treehugger.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, after the trees are collected, they're bundled together into groups of four our five, and then weighted down with concrete blocks and submerged into lakes, at varying depths. The bundles create an artificial reef that extends from the shore into deeper waters. That allows the trees to be utilized as shelter by a variety of fish, ranging from young fish who stay in shallow areas, to adults who go into the deep.
The species that benefit from the Christmas trees include crappies, bluegills and bass.
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"Christmas trees make cheap, but quality underwater structures," according to the Forest Service. "They are easy to place in the ponds and lakes, and they last for several years. More importantly, their branching patterns offer something to fish of all shapes and sizes."
But fish aren't the only creatures who benefit from Christmas tree recycling. In San Francisco, a company called City Grazing is partnering with the city's Fire Department to accept trees and use them as goat food.
According to SFGate.com, the company has a herd of 80 animals, who will chow down on 160 Christmas trees.
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The American Christmas Tree Association reports that this year, nearly 100 million U.S. households displayed Christmas trees, of which only 1 in five were actual trees.
While you might think that using an artificial tree is better for the environment than cutting down a live tree, a 2009 study by the Canadian environmental consulting firm Ellipsos found that an an artificial tree would have to be re-used for 20 years to be greener than buying a freshly-cut tree, when emissions from the manufacturing and transport of fake trees are taken into consideration. Most artificial trees also contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a material that produces carcinogens during manufacturing and eventual disposal.
Cutting down Christmas trees doesn't qualify as deforestation, because they are a cultivated crop that is replaced each year. According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Christmas trees often are grown on "marginally productive farmland" that can't be used for food crops.