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Posted on January 7th, 2014

Outside the Box – Recycled Wood

At the time this newsletter edition goes to press, we will have just wrapped up another busy holiday season. Christmas being a big part of that season means that countless Americans have or soon will drag their Christmas trees to the curb for pickup. These festive trees are almost always Scotch pine or Douglas fir, but there are other fir varieties as well; and most of them come from large farms whose sole purpose is to grow them for this time of year. In 2011, we bought 31 million trees at an average of $35, for a total take of nearly $1 billion! The largest Christmas tree farm is the Holiday Tree Farm near Corvallis, Oregon. Started in 1955 by a family with deep northwest roots, one of its founders has a PhD in agronomy which has been instrumental to the company’s success in terms of understanding optimum soil and fertilizer conditions.

It takes an average of 6-10 years for the average Christmas tree to reach its maturity; and then they become the symbol of family and holiday cheer for just a few weeks. Here is a patch of harvested Christmas timber. 50-cm color image captured August 16th, 2012 by WorldView-2, and comes courtesy of DigitalGlobe. Photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, fallow ground to fertile ground. Once there were few, now there are many. Just like the materialism that accompanies the holiday season, we never have enough Christmas trees. They’re so seasonal! 50-cm color image captured August 16th, 2012 by WorldView-2, and comes courtesy of DigitalGlobe. Photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping.

And when the Holidays have passed and the trees have moved on to the next phase of their life, most of them will become mulch. Mulch can be beneficial in inhibiting weed growth in gardens, it holds in moisture for newly planted trees and during the cold weather season, it helps protect roots from deep freeze. Christmas trees are also often used for freshwater fish habitats. Typically they are sunk to the bottom of lakes to provide safety for small fish, and sometimes an area that is conducive to spawning. In parts of Louisiana, Christmas trees are used to help prevent erosion in the marshland. Good to see that these trees aren’t going to waste after they serve as decoration for our festivities!

This led me to think about other discarded wood and how it can be re-used to have a second, meaningful life, and also reduce clutter in our nation’s landfills. Often dubbed reclaimed lumber, its use has grown in popularity for many reasons. Primarily it has many green benefits, such as eliminating the need for further forest thinning, as well as its contribution to reducing air pollution instead of by other synthetic methods. Recycling one ton of wood can save up to 18 million BTUs of heat energy a year. Reclaimed lumber has also become desirable at a fashionable level. A company in Chicago called Urban Wood Goods specializes in using wood from pre-1920s era structures like houses and barns, converting the former abodes’ boards into furniture with a truly aged appearance. The business grew from $30,000 in sales in 2011, to over half a million in sales in 2012. They expect to reach the $1 million dollar mark this year.

So as we continue to look for ways to make our living and planet greener, it is nice to know that there are avenues for us to follow that can help make or save some money along the way. And while not everyone has access to an old barn on the family acreage to turn into a rocking chair or sweater cabinet, we can turn our Christmas trees into productive nature bites that provide great benefit to our yards – at the same time keeping those holiday memories a little closer to home!

And while reclaimed lumber has become the catchy thing of late, it is nice to see an appreciation of our roots for recycling that which comes from our collective history. Think of the stories you could tell on a bench made from a turn-of-the-century garage, nestled in the backyard by your favorite tree; far more endearing then one bought at the local big box garden store!

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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