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Discarded Christmas trees keep on giving all year

| Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, 10:25 p.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

Thousands of Christmas trees are serving new uses through recycling once they've given their all for Western Pennsylvania holiday traditions.

“Mother Nature's been doing it on her own for millions of years,” said Dave Mazza, director of the Pennsylvania Resources Council, an environmental organization with an office on the South Side.

Allegheny County mulches Christmas trees and uses them in its parks; Butler and Fayette counties leave them whole and anchor them in area lakes and streams to improve fish habitats.

“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.” The county collected about 600 trees last year, she said.

Mulch produced in Allegheny County will line trails and aid plant beds in parks throughout the county, Downs said.

Officials at the Lexington, Ky.-based National Christmas Tree Association estimate 25 to 30 million live Christmas trees are sold in the United States each year. They say one live Christmas tree makes about 5 pounds of mulch, which can help absorb unwanted chemicals and improve soil quality.

Westmoreland County uses mulch from Christmas trees to line walking trails in Hempfield Park, and in Beaver County, mulch from about 100 chipped Christmas trees is sold to residents in the spring.

“It's a little money generator,” said Matt Marsilio, a technician at the Beaver County Recycling Center in Bradys Run Park. “It's what we're all about. We let nothing go to waste.”

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

A portion of the mulch that comes from trees dropped off at city recycling centers will be used in flower beds at parks throughout Pittsburgh, said Bill Klimovich, assistant director of Pittsburgh Public Works' Bureau of Environmental Services.

Mazza said giving new life to trees is natural.

“It's basically just like recycling. You use them for a purpose, recycle it and put back into the system again,” he said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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