Parishes continuing efforts to recycle Christmas trees

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER A discarded Christmas tree awaits collection on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans as the streetcar passes in the background on Thursday. New Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard and St. Charles parishes all collected Christmas trees for recycling this week as part of coastal restoration projects and other efforts. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER A discarded Christmas tree awaits collection on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans as the streetcar passes in the background on Thursday. New Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard and St. Charles parishes all collected Christmas trees for recycling this week as part of coastal restoration projects and other efforts.

Despite disappearing state funds, local parishes continue their efforts to recycle discarded Christmas trees, and collection of those trees begins this week in many areas.

Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard and St. Charles parishes all collected Christmas trees for recycling this week as part of coastal restoration projects and other efforts.

Residents in most areas can just leave their trees curbside, but in other areas they have to bring them to drop-off points.

In most areas, collection will cease by Saturday, but in St. Charles Parish trees will be collected until Jan. 19.

The recycling efforts continue despite the state’s decision to eliminate funding for using Christmas trees in coastal restoration in 2010 about two or three years ago. That decision came after state officials determined that the trees had a minimal impact in saving Louisiana’s rapidly eroding coastline. The state previously spent about $175,000 annually on the work, which had been funded for roughly two decades. Typically the trees are deposited in constructed “cribs” and have to be replenished every two to three years.

However, the elimination of state funding hasn’t ended the efforts locally, although the scope and focus of the programs has changed in some cases. Jefferson Parish, Plaquemines Parish and New Orleans all provide curbside collection, while unincorporated St. Tammany Parish primarily uses drop-off locations, said Ronnie Simpson, a parish spokesman.

He said the parish’s garbage collectors may decide to do some curbside collection, but that’s purely voluntary. Although St. Tammany is collecting the trees, officials still haven’t determined how to get them to “cribs” in Bayou Gauche, Simpson noted.

Jefferson Parish is donating some of its trees to a project in Lake Hermitage in Plaquemines Parish, and others will be used in the standard cribs along Goose Bayou in Lafitte. This year the parish will begin a pilot program of donating trees to Wood Materials LLC of Harahan to use in the creation of compost.

Marnie Winter, the parish’s director of environmental affairs, admitted it’s true that the trees aren’t the solution to the state’s massive coastal erosion problem and said that typically Jefferson Parish only got about $53,000 from the state. However, the projects are a hit with residents, who enjoy feeling like they are doing something to solve the problem. They increase public awareness and help reduce landfill usage, Winter said.

“The project is so popular with our residents. … That’s why we keep doing it,” she said. “There are a lot of larger coastal restoration projects going on with the state. … I think they feel like they need the money for that.”

Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner, whose city is right on the front lines of the coastal restoration fight, said there is definitely a practical benefit from the Christmas trees. In fact, Winter noted that a 2005 study found that areas with the cribs lost less land to erosion. Kerner said the trees are a visible sign that people care and are working.

“I think it’s a benefit, I think it’s a good idea,” Kerner said.

In New Orleans, the collected trees are dumped in Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Reserve, said Kambium Buckner, a spokesman for the city. He noted that the city has only received about $253,000 from the state since the program began in 1991 and will spend about $9,000 in city funds this year. Mayor Mitch Landrieu said New Orleans continues the program because it’s a service residents enjoy.