Firs. Pines. Spruces. Cedars.
Millions of these prickly evergreens are chopped, shipped, sold and decorated every holiday season. So what happens to the lonely pre-cut trees with sparse spots and broken limbs that never make it to a toasty family room corner?
Many are chopped up, ground down and fed to plants and animals, according to Rocco Malanga, the owner of Cedar Grove Christmas Trees in Cedar Grove, New Jersey.
"On a commercial level, they become wood chips that are made into mulch," Malanga said. "That's very common. Aside from that, they go to farms for livestock. But if we've done our job correctly, there's not a lot that we have to deal with."
Cedar Grove Christmas Trees is a retail and wholesale company that is involved in the "entire lifecycle" of the holiday tree, Malanga said. He's a third generation owner of the business that provides over 50,000 trees and wreaths to much of the East Coast. The company sells trees to local retailers, Home Depot and Walmart.
Malanga said that after the holidays are over, some unsold trees take a trip to the beach.
In coastal areas that get ravaged by hurricanes and erosion, left-over Christmas trees can be fastened together, staked down and used to trap sand.
"A dry Christmas tree is a perfect foundation for the creation of sand dunes. Over time, the tree will break down, but it gives time for plants around them to take root," Malaga said.
Healthy sand dunes are the first line of defense during tropical storms because they are able to absorb the impact of destructive winds and waves.
After the coastline of New Jersey and some of New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Irene in 2011, Cedar Grove Christmas Trees donated some of the stripped-down holiday logs to shoreside towns.
"We have a wholesale yard that has trees left over always," Malanga said. "If there's any need we are happy to get involved."
The afterlives of Christmas trees can vary greatly depending on the location.
In Louisiana, some leftover trees are used to help restore coastal marshes. In parts of Illinois, old Christmas trees have been used to create nesting structures for endangered herons. In South Dakota, trees have been dropped into a lake to improve fish habitats. And in San Francisco, spare Christmas trees have been fed to goats.
According to the National Christmas Trees Association, there are more than 4,000 local Christmas Tree recycling programs throughout the United States and approximately 25 to 30 million are sold each year.
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