SOLID WASTE/Recycled trees preserve coast, protect wetlands
Each year, cities and counties must handle thousands of discarded Christmas trees after the holidays. That presents a problem for most sanitation departments, but not for the Department of Natural Resources in Jefferson Parish, La. The agency has developed a Christmas tree recycling program that saves landfill space and helps protect the environment.
Instead of placing the dead trees in a landfill and waiting for them to decompose, the trees are placed in fenced areas on coastal marshes and in abandoned oil and gas access canals. The trees help protect the coastline from saltwater intrusion and enhance sedimentation along the coast.
Louisiana has 40 percent of the nation’s remaining coastal wetlands and is experiencing 80 percent of the nation’s coastal wetlands loss, 25 to 35 square miles each year. That loss is a serious problem since wetlands protect developed areas against hurricane surges, provide natural treatment for stormwater and provide a nursery ground for fisheries.
Jefferson Parish recycles more than 50,000 trees each year as part of the largest marsh restoration program in the state. The county’s waste management department designates three curbside pick-up days for the trees. Waste management collects the trees and stockpiles them in an area adjacent to the intercoastal canal in Harvey.
Volunteers from schools, clubs, civic organizations and businesses bundle the trees. The limbs are twined tightly together to create the compact woody mass needed to slow the water velocity and promote sedimentation. Each bundle contains 35 to 50 trees.
Residents volunteer their boats to transport the trees, and White Plains, N.Y.-based Texaco donates a tugboat and barge. The trees are taken to cribs, located about 100 feet from shore, where they are submerged and compressed by volunteers who stand on them.
Natural Resources enlists the help of the Louisiana Army Air National Guard to transport trees to sites with abandoned oil and gas access canals. Using helicopters, the Guard transports 15,000 trees to the marshes. A refueling point is set up on dry land close to the deposit site, so the helicopters can refuel and continue working. (In the past, the Coast Guard and local police have helped fill the canals with trees.) The trees decompose in the canals, increasing nutrients in the water.
Since 1990, the parish has recycled more than 550,000 Christmas trees, helping protect 100 acres of wetlands. The project is funded by a grant from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Coastal Restoration Division, Jefferson Parish and various corporations. In October, the program won the Christmas Tree Recycling Excellence award from the Solid Waste Association of North America, based in Silver Spring, Md.