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CONCERNED CONSUMER - NOV/DEC 2004
O, Sustainable Christmas Tree
Real or artificial? Cut or potted?
If you want to have a holiday tree in your home this December, these are the questions you might be asking yourself. And, if you prefer to buy green, you might be wondering which option is the most eco-friendly.
Contrary to what you might think, buying a cut tree can be a responsible choice. Nowadays, almost all cut Christmas trees are harvested from tree farms, many of them family owned. These farms plant about two trees for every one cut, and often they use rocky soil that does not support other types of agriculture. This means that instead of barren land, the farm hosts trees that provide oxygen and combat global warming.
However, many of these farms use pesticides to protect the trees from insects and disease. Many of these pesticides contaminate groundwater and harm wildlife. The trees also can pose a danger to your family. According to a study by the Cooperative Extension Service of North Carolina, most Christmas trees are treated with the pesticide chlorpyriforus, a suspected neurotoxin. A cut tree may still be laden with this chemical and others when it reaches your home.
To keep the chemicals out of your house—and the environment—look for an organic tree. Organic Christmas trees are rising in popularity. A search on the website for the no-profit Local Harvest turns up several online pages of listings for organic and almost-organic tree farms across the U.S. If there is not an organic tree farm near you, ask local growers whether they take steps to reduce chemical inputs.
There are many ways to recycle a cut tree when the holidays are over. Check with local authorities for recycling pick-ups (see www.earth911.org). You also can recycle your tree on your own by composting it. According to Ohio State University researchers, most pesticides rapidly degrade during the composting process and do not persist at the concentrations that affect human health or the environment, so this is a good option for conventional and organic trees. It may be tempting to burn your tree in your fireplace, but evergreen smoke will distribute pine tar in your flu and chimney, which can clog your chimney and may even catch fire.
Instead of a cut tree, you can choose an organic potted tree, available at organic nurseries and some tree farms. To keep your potted tree thriving following the holiday season so that you can reuse it as next year’s Christmas tree, keep it in a garage or cold house during freezing cold weather. If you live in a moderately cold climate, put the tree outside and pile mulch or leaves around the pot for insulation. If you live in a place that is warm year-round, remember to frequently water your tree. Ehow.com has more tips on keeping your tree alive, whether you keep it in its pot or replant it.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation recommends artificial trees to sufferers of severe allergies, because live trees can harbor pollens and molds. While artificial trees are reusable, they are also made from non-renewable resources such as plastic, steel and aluminum. Once thrown away, your artificial tree will spend centuries in your local landfill. Also, three out of every four artificial trees sold in the U.S. come from factories in China where most workers make only about $125 a month in sweatshop conditions. If you opt for an artificial tree, purchase one made in the U.S. under fair-labor conditions. Christmas Depot sells trees made in New Jersey under fair conditions.Use your tree for as many years as you can. Most recycling programs do not accept artificial trees. If you must get rid of it, check with local charities, shelters and churches to see if they need your old tree for the holidays.