Living or cut, real trees are the way to go this holiday season. Here’s why.
Once again, the holiday question arises: real or plastic? Is it best to purchase a living tree, a cut tree, or an artificial one you drag out for the next seven-to-nine years before sending it to the landfill? But, you wonder, if you buy an artificial tree every few years, aren’t you helping the environment by saving real trees? Don’t we need to leave trees to collect carbon as a hedge against climate disruption?
From an environmental perspective, the answer is NO to those last questions and YES to a real living or cut tree. Here’s why:
Think about what it takes to make an artificial tree. Plastic polyvinylchloride (PVC) resin and polypropylene (PP) plus steel for the framework are the main ingredients. Much energy with its associated pollution is required to create the illusion of “tree.” There’s baking, shredding, fringing, coloring, wiring, cutting branches, pneumatic fastening, and bolting to attach branches. Want a snowy look or a pre-lit model? Add latex paint, lights and more labor. Then there’s packaging and transportation with the embedded energy associated with cardboard and plastic shrink wrap.
Doesn’t that create a lot of needed jobs? Yes, it does...in China, Korea and Taiwan, where almost all artificial trees are made. Then you throw it away in a landfill—where it does not biodegrade.
Compare that process to the path of a real cut Christmas tree. Nature provides free services to produce an evergreen with no pollution. There’s little labor required from an American-based tree farmer during seven-to-nine years. While growing, that tree holds on to carbon. Once cut, the farmer plants its replacement.
When holidays are over, you can set your tree out to biodegrade for compost, provide winter shelter for wildlife, chip it or chop it, call 311 for recycling pickup (if you live in Chattanooga) or take it to a collection center for landscaping use. If you selected a living tree, simply plant it.
Christmas tree farms provide jobs in our area. There are eight in Eastern Tennessee and 10 in North Georgia, but North Carolina beats all with more than 60. Assuming you don’t order a Colorado spruce, chances are your tree is a native, grown locally. Old-fashioned cedar is found in the woods, but not sold at stands. On the market you might prefer white pine, but the most popular species is Fraser fir. That’s an excellent choice. In fact the tannenbaum in the German Christmas song is a fir tree.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
In beauty green will always grow
Through summer sun and winter snow
Some years ago, I kept an injured screech owl at my home for use in nature education. Owlivetti (named after the Olivetti brand typewriter because he made typewriter-sounding noises), would occasionally fly around the house for exercise.
One day before Christmas, we couldn’t find him. After a thorough search, we discovered him perched in the still undecorated Christmas tree, well camouflaged and happily leaning against the tree trunk as if he had found true nature. That’s what I like most about bringing a real tree indoors for decoration and celebration with loved ones.
An artificial tree speaks more to an interior design accouterment. Each real tree is unique, a symbol of past cultural and religious traditions comingled with our times. It has a story to tell, a soothing presence amid the bustle, and a fragrance to remind us that we are all a part of and connected to diverse nature.
In these days of too much materialism, that’s important to remember. May your holidays be ever green.