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article imageGreen Thumbs Up: Making a sustainable choice in a Christmas tree

By Karen Graham     Dec 13, 2015 in Environment
In light of the Paris climate accord being accepted on Saturday, each of us, doing our part, no matter how small it may be, in leading a sustainable lifestyle, will be helping our planet. One easy way to help is by using a real Christmas tree.
Those of us that love a real Christmas tree can list all of the obvious reasons for having one. The smell of pine or cedar permeating the home is intoxicating, no one can deny that. The choosing of the tree can end up being a memorable family occasion, often accompanied by serious perusal by everyone before just the right tree is selected to grace the home.
Speaking of the smell of a pine Christmas tree, did you know the aroma has a positive effect on the mind? A 2007 study by scientists at Kyoto University in Japan found that the smell of pine needles had a positive effect in battling anxiety, stress and depression.
Even though real trees have an aesthetically appealing value to many people, the big question remains: Is using a real tree better for the planet than buying a PVC Christmas tree? There are two sides to the issue and both the Christmas tree growers of the world and the industries that manufacture artificial trees have differing thoughts on the environmental impacts of their products.
Live Christmas trees are promoted as being Eco-friendly
Live trees are a crop, farmed, harvested and replanted in rotation as trees are felled. The trees help to keep the air clean, and provide a safe habitat for wild animals and birds, and when the farms are well-managed, also keep the soil intact, preventing erosion. For every tree cut down, one to three trees is replanted in the spring.
Tree farms are actually found in all 50 states in the U.S.
Tree farms are actually found in all 50 states in the U.S.
Wiki Photos
Another important advantage to buying a real tree is that you support tree farmers in all 50 states and Canada. About 25-30 million real trees are sold each year in the U.S. This helps to employ around 100,000 workers. Real trees are recycled at over 4,000 recycling facilities in the country, turning them into mulch that can be used in a number of applications.
Okay, there are a few disadvantages in using a real tree. The biggest is the cost, and it's one that is recurring. Most real Christmas trees will set a family back $20 to $70, with a really special tree running $200 or more. If you buy a potted tree to later plant outdoors, there is the added expense of planting and care.
Real trees need care as long as they are in your home. They must be continually watered to prevent the needles drying out, even though they will eventually dry and fall off sooner rather than later. And this brings up the biggest complaint about live trees, and that is the clean up after the holidays. The needles seem to dry, drop and then multiply.
Artificial trees are a buy-one-time deal that saves you money
Artificial trees are usually made of PVC, and are not biodegradable. They also contain harmful chemicals and lead, which is used to hold the PVC together. There are alternatives being pushed by several companies. You can find wooden trees and cleverly made cardboard trees, but while having the general shape of a Christmas tree, might not be all that inspirational.
Bellagio Las Vegas 2015 Christmas Tree Holiday Scene Tour.
Bellagio Las Vegas 2015 Christmas Tree Holiday Scene Tour.
Chris Rauschnot http://twitter.com/24k
Artificial trees are terribly convenient, too. All you have to do is drag them out of the attic, garage or basement, stick the limbs in the proper holes on the pole, and presto! You have a Christmas tree. There is no annual haggling with a salesperson over the cost, no watering, and no needles to clean up after the holiday season is over.
Artificial trees are bad for the environment, that is their biggest disadvantage. Older PVC trees harbor lead, and all PVC trees overtime release dioxin, a toxic chemical that is harmful to humans and animals. Once an artificial tree loses its usefulness, it can't be recycled and ends up in a landfill.
Over 85 percent of artificial trees sold in the U.S. and Canada are made in China. We are not only adding to our carbon footprint, but taking dollars away from local tree farmers in both countries. And as a last disadvantage, artificial trees are a fire hazard, and when they burn, release toxic fumes. It's estimated that a 6.5 foot (2-meter) artificial tree has a carbon footprint more than twice that of a real tree that ends up in a landfill, and the PVC tree has more than ten times the carbon footprint of a real tree if it burns.
Both artificial and real Christmas trees have an environmental impact, but PVC trees do have a larger impact, using more energy to manufacture, polluting and even posing a potential health hazard. Which ever tree you decide to but this year, just choose responsibly.
Green Thumbs Up is a weekly feature that delves into ways that we can live more environmentally-friendly lives. You can read last week's column HERE.
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