After all the cookies are eaten and gifts unwrapped, St. Charles Parish residents cleaning up their holiday mess this year have a once-per-year opportunity to feel good recycling their Christmas trees and participate in coastal restoration at the same time.
From now until January 11, St. Charles Parish residents can help with the recycling effort by dropping off their Christmas trees at the designated collection bins inside the East and West Bank Bridge Parks. Curbside pickup of Christmas trees will also be available for residents from January 8 thru 11.
Parish officials advised all Christmas trees to be recycled should be stripped of lights, ornaments and stands. Flocked or painted trees cannot be accepted for recycling, as the trees collected are later placed into local bodies of water, where the chemicals on such trees can harm the environment.
Like many other types of recycling programs, parish officials say recycling Christmas trees each year is an environmentally friendly practice with clear advantages.
“It’s a two-fold benefit,” Earl Matherne, St. Charles Parish Planning and Coastal Zone Administrator, explained of the parish’s tree recycling program. “Number one, it does benefit the environment when we get it put out there [in local coastal areas and marshlands]. And number two – it keeps all that huge volume of useable material from going into the landfill.”
Discarded Christmas trees collected for recycling this January will be installed into local marshland areas where they are needed to help build up habitat inside St. Charles Parish.
Areas in need of extra help are first identified, and then have pens installed, consisting of a double row of wooden slat fences, usually four to 6 feet tall off the water bottom and connected on the ends. Each pen is built to be between 75 and 150 feet long. Christmas trees collected after the holidays are placed inside each pen, which helps the coast and marshland heal itself as water flows through them.
“The whole idea of these pens is that you use them in pairs or in greater numbers – four or five different pens in an area – that trap moving water and slow it down enough, so the sediment falls out of it,” Matherne said.
Over a period of years, trees from the program at one time successfully built up between 10 and 20 acres of newly created ground in the La Branche area. The Christmas trees collected this year will still be used inside St. Charles Parish but will now be sent to the Simoneaux Ponds area near Bayou Gauche, where they will be used to help create an improved and diverse habitat for fish, ducks and other wildlife.
The tree recycling program was previously state funded, but as of around 2017, the parish began taking full control and funding it exclusively with St. Charles Parish tax dollars.
“The parish has decided it’s an important enough thing that the parish pays for its 100 percent,” Matherne explained. “We do all of the funding on it, and every tree stays here – we don’t take trees from other places.”
Having administered the program for many years, Matherne said the strength of the local economy is usually a good indicator of how many Christmas trees they will collect each year. St. Charles Parish, the longtime administrator said, collectively tends to buy more Christmas trees when they are flush with cash at Christmas time.
“On really good years where everything’s booming…we’ll see anywhere between 8,000 to 10,000 Christmas trees,” Matherne said. “In the past couple of years that have been a little slower – we’re looking more like 4,000 to 5,000 [trees collected].”