Dear Recyclebank: I realize that some municipalities turn logs, slash, and post-holiday trees into mulch, but aren’t there more practical ways to reincarnate that wood (like donating it to paper making factories or companies that create bedding for animals)? –Elizah L., Denver, CO
Dear Elizah: We think mulch is a fantastic solution that diverts yard waste out of the landfill, but appreciate that there are trade-offs to every method of reuse and recycling, including this one. The energy calculation for municipal mulch operations depends on how far town vehicles are driving the waste around (or all of those private vehicles burning fuel driving to a central drop-off point) and what type of mulching equipment is used. Despite that carbon cost, mulch is a valuable end product: Mulch keeps moisture in the soil between rainstorms and waterings, and helps with weed control, reducing or eliminating pesticide use. If your town has a special tree pick-up service — most do after the holidays — we recommend taking advantage of it.
In some coastal areas, an alternative use for old Christmas trees and logs is to rebuild dunes impacted by beach erosion and major storms. Our members in Brazoria, TX, might be familiar with the town’s Dunes Day event, which gets residents excited to help protect their shores, and New York and New Jersey coastlines benefited from recycled Christmas trees after Hurricane Sandy, as well.
Great idea on pet bedding as another approach to using old wood. Some pet shelters and horse stables may accept wood shavings, but you'll want to call to see their specifications before you start shredding. They may consider it easier and safer to purchase shavings from a company that sources pesticide-free wood, kiln-dries it, and sifts out dust prior to packing.
Members who use the Internet should check out their local Craigslist and FreeCycle sites and use those online resources to announce available free wood whenever they have firewood, logs, or other yard waste that someone might be able to use. Maybe there's a wood artist, terrarium enthusiast, Pinterest crafter, weekend warrior, floral designer, or boat builder who would love to turn your trash into treasure.
Rotting the wood yourself is an option if you have a yard, aren't restricted by association rules or in an area prone to wild fires, and if it won't annoy your neighbors. You might even be able to create a “snag”: Consider leaving a small corner of your backyard a wildlife habitat welcoming to insects and small mammals by starting with rotting wood.
Finally, we love it when diverting material from the waste stream can provide an opportunity for fun, too. Reach out to local pre-schools and daycares when you have logs to share, in case they have some natural elements in their play spaces. We’ve also found that, like empty cardboard boxes, many children love the simple pleasure of rolling small logs around and rearranging them.
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