Sunday, December 21, 2008

Keeping it real

If you're like most people celebrating Christmas, you have probably already decorated your Christmas tree.  And perhaps you've also wondered if cutting down a large living plant for the sheer purpose of holiday decoration and tradition, only to dispose of it a few weeks later, makes environmental sense.  Well, you are not alone.

A few years back, artificial trees emerged as a popular renewable choice for millions of consumers.  My parents have been among the many who like the ease of no needle cleanup and a onetime purchase.  Their six-foot high "pine" tree that they bought seven years ago looks natural, is easy to assemble and can be stored in the attic in three garbage bags.  No more watering, shopping each year in the cold, or getting scratches from needles while decorating.

However, the tree growers, threatened by the economic effects of a drop in live tree sales, have struck back.  The National Christmas Tree Association has been educating the public about the evils of fake trees.  They may contain PVC, a source of hazardous lead, as well as toxins that are released when burned.  Also, about 85% of artificial trees are produced in China, sometimes under poor working conditions.  Is using a live tree each year wasteful?  No, because tree farmers plant new trees to replenish their stock.  Many people recycle their trees and in some communities, like Boston, trees left out on trash day during the first two weeks of January will be composted as well (a list of recycling options in many US locations can be found here).

In my house we had pondered the idea of getting a live tree.  After the holidays were over and the decorations off, we would plant the tree either in our backyard, or perhaps the Minton Stable Garden (with permission, of course).  But a live tree should only be brought inside for no longer than 7-10 days, and requires a bit of preparation during a time of year when people are busy enough getting ready for the holidays.

In the end, we continued our tradition of buying a Douglas fir from the lot in Allston where my husband once worked.  In early January, we'll hurl it off our back porch into the yard, where it will sit until the weather is warm enough for the tree to be cut up for firewood or compost or chipped into mulch.


Dan said...

We have not been really big on Christmas for quite a few years now especially the presents & decorating part. I remember one year we got some flack from someone about not having a tree up so we wrapped some lights around our Ficus Benjamina Tree, it was pretty funny.

So hey, if you really want to be eco just decorated your house plants :-)

Happy Holidays

Sally said...

That's what some friends did! I can't remember what kind of tree they have, but it is like a ficus, and they had strung up lights and hung the ornaments as usual. It was cool, standing under this canopy of decorations--a nice effect.
Happy Holidays to you, too!