It's not even Christmas yet but it's still not too early to think about what to do with that live tree once the festivities come to a close.

For most people, it's a bummer when that once beautifully decorated Christmas tree filled with twinkling lights, ornaments and tinsel becomes bare once again.

The first thought may be to toss that tree to the curb for garbage pickup. But don't do it! Plenty of places in New Jersey can recycle that old evergreen, extend its life, and put it to good use for the environment.

How can a Christmas tree help the shoreline?

The American Littoral Society does a lot of work along the Jersey shorelines, trying to protect areas from erosion, the impacts of sea-level rise, and climate change.

Executive director, Tim Dillingham said many of the practices the society uses are nature-based. They use live materials such as grasses, oyster shells, wood, to help protect properties and natural areas from erosion through living shorelines.

They found that Christmas trees can be a big part of this process. "We can use them often as the core when we rebuild dunes along the beaches and more so now, we've been using them along the edges of marshes to help us protect those areas," Dillingham said.

What other projects can use old Christmas trees?

There is a program where people can drop off Christmas trees for use in one of these projects in Point Pleasant.

Dillingham said The Slade Dale Nature Preserve in Point is a salt marsh that is embedded in a neighborhood. Like many of the salt marshes in the state, it has eroded and lost a lot of the plants that provide habitats and provide the functions of marshes which is to put nutrients into the bay.

So The American Littoral Society has been trying to protect and restore the area, build back the salt marshes, and put them back into the ecosystem.

One way to do that, Dillingham said, is to build a series of branch boxes which are shoreline protection boxes filled with Christmas trees to break the action of waves and give the salt marshes a chance to recover and grow.

Christmas trees will be accepted on the site of the project at Sea Point Drive in Point Pleasant until the end of January to be used for spring projects, he said.

Another larger beach restoration project in Island Beach State Park also uses old Christmas trees, Dillingham said. The trees are used to create habitats for small birds and control beach erosion. He recommends people reach out to The Friends of Island Beach State Park to get more information.

How can animals benefit from recycled Christmas trees?

Christmas tree donations are also accepted at the Cape May County Zoo where there are multiple uses for them.

Zoo veterinarian, Dr. Alexander Ernst said the most obvious use for trees is as food for some of the herbivores. Several hoofstock animals like chewing on them, consuming the needles, and stripping the bark. Goats, camels, deer, llamas, and alpacas enjoy chewing on Christmas trees.

He also said the Christmas trees are used to build windbreaks in some of the zoo's habitats that allow the animals to utilize the trees in a way that they would in the wild--as shelter from the cold, winter weather.

Lastly, the zoo uses the trees as toys for the animals. Ernst said, for example, the lions will pick up the trees and carry them around. They also like to bat at them with their paws.

"Don't forget, these trees have been in someone's house for a month or more so the tree has all kinds of novel scents that the animals might find interesting," Ernst said.

Since the zoo can only use a limited number of trees and has gotten overwhelmed with excess tree donations in years past, Ernst said they will only be collecting old Christmas trees for the first week of January or so.

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