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Discarded Christmas trees able to keep on giving all year 'round

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 10:07 a.m.
One of Allegheny County's collection point for used Christmas Trees is at the parking lot for the Hartwood Acres Mansion in Hampton. Dec. 31, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Think of it as a Christmas gift to Mother Nature.

After all, a recycled Christmas tree can end up as mulch on a park trail or a fish habitat in an area lake rather than yet another item atop the landfill heap.

One tree can make an estimated 5 pounds of mulch, according to Westmoreland Cleanways, which coordinates more than a dozen recycling events in the county.

“We get between 1,700 and 2,000 trees,” said Ellen Keefe, Cleanways' executive director. “That's a lot of material that's kept out of the landfill.”

There are eight tree collection sites in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Among them is one sponsored by Burrell High School's environmental club.

They get between 50 and 75 trees over two Saturdays.

The city of Lower Burrell chips the trees into mulch.

“We do it so the trees don't end up in landfills,” sand club sponsor Amy McGrath, a Burrell High teacher. “A lot of people, years ago, used to throw the trees in Burrell Lake Park — and that was a problem.”

Officials at the Lexington, Ky.-based National Christmas Tree Association estimate 25 million to 30 million live Christmas trees are sold in the United States each year.

The trees can be used to make sand and soil erosion barriers, be sunk into private fish ponds or other bodies of water to make a refuge and feeding area for fish, or placed outside as a bird feeder and sanctuary.

The Army Corps of Engineers places whole trees in the Youghiogheny River Lake to be used as a fish habitat, Park Ranger Ronald Slezak said. Officials at Moraine State Park in Butler County do the same.

The mulch produced in Allegheny County will line trails and be used in plant beds in parks throughout the county, Downs said.

Butler County leaves them whole to be used as fish habitats in area lakes and streams.

“It's been a really successful program,” said Amie Downs, spokeswoman for Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “In previous years, we collected trees in four parks. This year, we're collecting them at all of our parks.”

Dave Mazza, director of the Pennsylvania Resources Council, an environmental organization with an office on Pittsburgh's South Side, said giving new life to trees is natural.

“Mother Nature's been doing it on her own for millions of years,” he said. “You use them for a purpose, recycle it and put back into the system again.”

Jodi Weigand and Adam Brandolph are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Weigand can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com. Brandolph can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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