Have A Green Christmas

As with many decisions these days, choosing what type of tree is the most 'green' is a complicated one - cutting down real trees isn't generally looked upon too highly, nor is using oil-based plastic to make a fake tree, whether you keep it around longer or not. So, what is an eco-minded Christmas celebrant to do?

Despite the increasingly wide array of fake trees available, some with warranties that guarantee they'll last awhile, it seems that the majority of them (if not all) are made with PVC. PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, often referred to as vinyl, is a form of plastic commonly used in shower curtains and numerous other common products. You may recognize it as #3 plastic. Unfortunately, during both production and use (not to mention landfilling), PVC causes the emission of a number of toxic substances, from dioxin and mercury to additives like phtalates and lead. These substances have been linked to reproductive, developmental, and immune problems, as well as to cancer. If lead in children's toys is unacceptable, so ought lead in the tree under which they'll sit. So, you may be able to keep that fake tree for a lot longer than a real one, but you may not want to.

In addition to the negative aspects of the chemicals used in fake christmas trees, the majority of them are also transported great distances (often from China or elsewhere in Asia). This means that a lot of energy is being used not only to make the tree, but also to get it to you. And that means people around the world are being exposed to harmful chemicals in order to make those 'trees.' If, however, you find a tree that is PVC-free, or would just rather have a fake tree despite it, due ot its convenience and longevity, do take good care of it so that it will last awhile, and do dispose of it properly when its 'life' has ended.

While some environmentalists propose using a live tree and planting it after the holiday, this is trickier than it sounds. Living trees will only survive inside for around a week (ideally a few days less, but possibly a few days more). You may be able to pot it and use it again for a year or two, but it'll need to be planted permanently before too long. Plus, in addition to the time constraints are space constraints: the types of trees generally used as Christmas trees can grow very large, too large for a great many Lakewood yards, not to mention their living rooms. And, the ground can't be frozen when you're ready to plant.

Though cutting down a tree to use as a decoration for a few weeks doesn't sound sustainable, the farmers of Christmas trees must be running sustainable farms in order to continue their business. Unfortunately, some of them may use noxious pesticides and herbicides, but if you buy your tree locally, you can inquire about their growing practices. If you're going to buy a natural tree, try to find the closest farm possible and try to find one that uses Integrated Pest Management rather than harmful pesticides. That is, of course, if an outright organic farm isn't an option. There is always a dilemma between local and organic when both are not available. In this case, the closer to home, the better - at very least, you can be relatively certain that the real, local tree you buy will be replaced by a newly planted tree that will begin its own carbon dioxide-absorbing life after your tree's has stopped.

Unfortunately, Christmas tree farms don't retain carbon as well as a natural forest, which leads to one more option: foregoing the tree altogether in favor of other decorations and activities. Though many families will no doubt take objection to such a suggestion, it could be a great opportunity to get the whole family involved in conservation. Rather than getting a tree, use other decorations (hopefully ones that will last awhile and are made from natural materials!), perhaps made together as a family. 

Regardless of your tree choice, try to decorate it sustainably, too. Don't buy ornaments that will break easily or that you know you will tire of quickly. Embrace ornaments made by family members and adorn everything with holiday photos or photo ornaments that can make lasting mementos. For indoor lights, opt for LEDs, which use a great deal less energy and last longer than traditional bulbs. For outdoor lighting, use LEDs or, even better, lights that are solar-powered. And, if you do choose a real tree (and don't opt for the living variety), be sure to dispose of it properly by placing it on the curb on the appropriate date.
Read More on Conservation Corner
Volume 4, Issue 25, Posted 1:06 PM, 11.26.2008