12/11/2011 See updates below:
Do you remember in the movie, A Charlie Brown Christmas, when Charlie Brown picks up the only real Christmas tree, albeit a scraggly one, at the tree market store? He chose this tree rather than the big shiny aluminum tree requested by Lucy for the play. When he returns with his tree, the Peanuts gang chastises him for buying the pathetic tree. At the end of the movie, the Peanuts gang fixes up the tree and Lucy exclaims, “Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree.”
What can we learn from Charlie Brown, a renaissance environmentalist? Forgo the fake shiny tree this year. Purchases of artificial trees have increased from 7.3 million in 2001 to 17.4 million in 2007 compared to a slight increase in the purchase of real trees.1 These days everyone is being asked to reduce their own carbon footprint. Why should we stop at the holiday season? Buying a living tree (preferably plantable) is the obvious choice during the holiday. If Charlie Brown was an adult today, he would have the following reasons why it is important to buy a real Christmas Tree.
Support your Local Economy
For every dollar you pump into your local economy, you help your neighbors and community farms or nurseries. To find the closest local US or Canadian Christmas tree farm go to Gardens.com.
Reduce your Carbon footprint
According to data collected by the US Department of Commerce for years 2005 and 2006, 85 percent of all fake trees come from China Just think of the fake tree’s carbon footprint from the manufacturing and shipment of the tree from China to your local store. I figured the footprint is equivalent to at least Shaquille O’Neal’s size 22 EEE shoes.
Trees Help the Environment
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service, trees
- “Help to settle out, trap and hold particle pollutants (dust, ash, pollen and smoke) that can damage human lungs.
- “Absorb CO2 and other dangerous gasses and, in turn, replenish the atmosphere with oxygen.
- Produce enough oxygen on each acre for 18 people every day.
- Absorb enough CO2 on each acre, over a year’s time, to equal the amount you produce when you drive your car 26,000 miles. Trees remove gaseous pollutants by absorbing them through the pores in the leaf surface. Particulates are trapped and filtered by leaves, stems and twigs, and washed to the ground by rainfall.”
In addition, Christmas Trees are a haven for wildlife, stabilize soil and protect water supplies, and they often grow in soil that does not support other crops.2
How toxic is your Fake Tree?
Fake plastic trees are mostly made out of PVC or aluminum. According to the Center for Healthy, Environmental & Justice, PVC is one of the most hazardous consumer products created. CHEJ states,
“Our bodies are contaminated with poisonous chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle, such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which may pose irreversible life-long health threats. When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems”
PVC is not the only chemical you need to worry about. According to a 2002 Kansas City’s KMBC-TV report, Richard Mass, the director of the Environmental Studies program at the University of North Carolina-Ashville discovered lead in a ¼ of the artificial trees he tested. It raised a red flag since studies have shown that lead causes permanent brain damage especially in infants and young children.
In the article, he urged people to test their artificial trees for lead. You can buy a lead test kit at the GT store. (Note, the $15 test kits from the Clean Water Lead Testing are no longer available.)
For $15, you can obtain a test kit from the Clean Water Lead Testing, a nonprofit nationally certified testing center offered by the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina and Clean Water for North Carolina. However, fake trees continued to be made with lead. Just last year, CNN also reported on the dangers of lead in fake trees and wreaths.
Think Life Cycle
If you buy a plastic or aluminum tree, think about the materials used to make the tree. Plastic is a petroleum based product which is a resource that is not infinite. The manufacturing of aluminum from raw materials uses a lot of energy. On the other hand, a Christmas tree is a renewable crop. According to the Texas Grower’s Association, for each one harvested, two or three saplings take its place.
What about when it is time to say good-bye to your fake tree? Unless you live in a progressive area that recycles PVC or aluminum, then your tree will end up in a landfill. As for a Christmas tree, it can be shredded into mulch. In addition, the trees are used to create erosion barriers for beaches and shorelines, feeding areas for fish ponds, and bird feeders.3
For further information on how recycled Christmas Trees are being reused in communities, see the National Christmas Tree Association’s news.
Christmas Tree Farm Photo by busymommy
Tree Farms are Educational
Tree farms are educational for kids. Teachers and parents, visit Real Trees 4 Kids for k-12 curriculum about the science of trees farming.
Consider buying Organic
From the above discussion, it seems pretty clear that buying a locally grown tree is a good alternative for Christmas. However, an organically grown tree is the best alternative or at the very least one that was given minimum amounts of pesticides. To get you started on your hunt for an organic Christmas tree, the New York Times’ article, “How Green Can a Christmas Tree Be?” provides a list of helpful websites. Green Promise’ list is one of my favorites since it contains growers nationwide. If your grower is not on any of the NY Times’ lists, ask your local tree grower if they use pesticides.
Another alternative is searching for sustainable tree growers through the Coalition of Environmentally Conscious Growers. Yule Tree Farms in Aurora, Oregon teamed up with Holiday Tree Farms in Corvallis, Oregon to form this coalition to promote sustainable requirements for growing Christmas trees. Tree growers are permitted to use minimal amounts of pesticides and there are annual inspections by a third party auditor.
Selecting a sustainable Christmas tree from a member of the coalition could increase your tree’s footprint since it has to be shipped to a local nursery.
Consider Buying a Living Tree
I would characterize myself as a treehugger and although I don’t want to sound like a Scrooge, cutting down trees for the holidays has always bothered me. Last year I asked a local tree grower if it is possible to buy a living tree and replant it. He replied that you could replant the tree in the spring provided you follow certain guidelines. His advice was similar to the Better Homes and Garden’s article on how to Buy a Christmas Tree to Plant. In addition Garden Web Forum (one of my favorite forums) has a discussion about planting Christmas Trees. It seems that the key to success is not keeping it in the house too long and keeping the roots moist.
What happens if you don’t have a place to plant your tree? I was frustrated because I could not find an organization on the internet that would sell you a tree and then plant it in a park or conservation area, other than the ones listed below that are geographically limited. Prior to buying the tree, contact your city or county to see if their public works department would plant it. If not, perhaps a local Boy Scout troop could.
There a few companies in the US that rent trees for the holidays:
Friends of the Urban Forest teamed up with Green Christmas program of San Francisco Environment to rent container trees for Christmas that will be planted in city streets after the holiday. The program is sold out this year.
The Original Living Christmas Tree rents full size evergreen trees to residents of Portland, Oregon, and then the trees are planted. The Company uses hybrid Zipcars, recycles the plastic bags and pots, and works with a cloth recycler to line their pots. When they are done with the cloths, they are given back to the recycler. You can also plant the live tree instead of returning it. Franchise opportunities are available.
Adopt a Christmas Tree delivers various types of Christmas trees to San Diego residents, and then the trees are donated to be planted. Pictured above are some of the elves that deliver the trees. In addition, the Company offers holiday packages to decorate your house for the holidays. Franchise opportunities are available.
When it comes to this holiday season, living trees are beautiful and sustainable. Ask the Peanuts gang.
1Christmas Tree Purchase Figures since 2001, Consumer Survey Results, National Christmas Tree Association
2Huber, Kathy, “Meet the Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree,” Huston Chronicle, November 21, 2007.
3 Christmas Tree Facts, The Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association
- 10 Tips for a Green Christmas. Start with the Tree.
- Recycled Content or Live Christmas Tree Alternatives for the Holidays
- Green Christmas: 5 Easy Ways to Be Eco Conscious During the Holidays
- Greener Holidays: Sage Advice to Last You Through Gift Returns
- Wow Imports: Fair trade and Recycled Fun Household Products