I'm hoping Mom puts the Christmas tree up today because I like to hang out under it. I walk under it checking for my presents and resting on the pretty tree skirt. I make sure all the lights are working and alert Mom if any ornaments come loose and tumble to the floor. I am on high alert during the holidays working day and night to make sure everything is picture perfect.
In the past, Mom and Dad have traveled to a tree farm to cut down a tree. They loved riding in the wagon, looking up and down each row until deciding they were ready to jump off the wagon to for a closer inspection. Up and down each row, measuring, calculating, imagining. They had it down to a science and always came home with a great tree. I loved the smell of our real trees. Nothing really compares to it.
A few years ago we purchased an artifical tree. Though it looks pretty, it is a bit too perfect. All its branches are symmetrical, the greenness of each limb a bit too green. The tree is easy to put up as Mom pulls each piece out of the box. When we are ready to say goodbye to the holidays, the box appears and once again the tree is taken apart, branch by branch, to sleep in its box until the time is right for it to come out next year.
I struggle with the different trees, real and artifical, that we've had in the past. I've been wondering which tree really is the best for the environment or if putting up a tree is really not that eco-friendly at all.
Most people have artifical trees because they are convenient. They look perfect, instilling in our minds the idea of the holiday we all desire. And of course the are eco-friendly because they can be reused year after year. But are they really the best choice if you care about the planet?
The biggest downside to artifical trees is that they are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the third most widely used plastic produced. The production of PVC creates and releases dioxin, which is one of the most toxic chemicals known to man. Dioxin contaminates the environment and puts the people who work with it at risks for many diseases. As if the chemical content of the trees weren't bad enough, ask yourself what happens to these trees when people no longer want them. PVC is difficult to recycle because burning it releases toxins into the air, so most trees end up in landfills. Hmmm. If burning them is bad, what happens when they break down in landfills? You guessed it - all the toxins get leached into the soil and water supply. Oh and don't forget that most artifical trees are manufactured in China so the carbon footprint is really high.
So if artifical trees have such a high carbon footprint should you purchase a real tree? There are many benefits to real trees, primarily that most are grown on local farms and all can be recycled. You help the local economy buy purchasing a real tree and whether you go to a tree farm or just down to a temporary stand on the corner, the smell of a real tree really sets the mood for the holidays all season long.
Of course a real tree requires lots of maintenance, and if you buy one every year the cost compared to a one time purchase of an artifical tree is substantial. There's also the mess to consider as pine needles can and do fall off, so if you don't like to vacuum or sweep, a real tree is not for you. In addition to the added fire hazard of a real tree, farmers who grow real trees likely apply chemicals to the trees during their growth. These chemicals pollute the environment just like the chemicals used to grow food.
Have I confused you? I've confused myself! Experts agree that the best case scenario is to purchase an organic tree from a local tree farmer. Right. Unfortunately, this is not a viable solution for most people, so how can you do the right thing?
The most important thing to consider when deciding on a Christmas tree is your overall environmental impact. If you have to drive far to cut down or purchase a real tree, your carbon footprint is increasing and possibly negating the eco-friendliness of your tree. And if you aren't going to recycle your real tree then don't even buy one. We definitely don't need another tree in our landfills.
If you purchase an artifical tree, consider doing some research into where it was manufactured. Believe it or not there are still U.S. companies making artifical trees. Though they may be few and far between, they are out there and worth looking into. Buying products made in the good old U.S.A. feels good and helps our economy.
No matter what type of tree you decide to put up, please make a conscious decision when doing so. A real tree must be maintained and then recycled. An artifical tree will last you a lifetime but if you decide that you no longer want it, please donate it. There are always people who don't have their own tree who would love to decorate your hand-me-down tree. No matter what you decide I only ask that you do the right thing.
Mom is still on the fence about our tree. I told her to put up our artifical tree today because it is raining outside and we have to stay inside anyway. She told me that she would really love a real tree this year so I found an organic tree farm not too far from home where she can cut one down. The problem? Mom and Dad are going on vacation next weekend and that is the only time the tree farm is open. I give up Mom! You decide. Just let me know when it's up so I can start wrapping presents.