December 24, 2008

Pine or Plastic? Big Decisions on the Christmas Tree Lot.

What’s the most Eco, Fun Christmas Tree? ~ a Video & Podcast with Waylon Lewis.

So doesn’t anyone else feel a little bit bad about cutting down a tree for mere enjoyment and aesthetic appeal?

Every year I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when my family and I are strolling around the Christmas tree lot. I feel horrible and somewhat guilty that this little tradition called Christmas has caused such a great impact on Christmas trees: Douglas Firs, Spruces, Pines, Palm Trees, Hanukkah bushes, you name it and someone is probably decorating it.

Is it the economy or what this season, but I feel that there are more lonely trees left on the lots this year than ever before. I don’t even want to think about the waste that they represent. So I got to pondering, what are some better alternatives to all this waste? Pine or plastic?

What is the best Christmas tree choice in eco terms? A plastic tree or a real Christmas tree?

A plastic tree, the one your family bought years ago that holds a sacred spot in your closet and in your Mom’s heart, is forever strong. Yes the one that, unfortunately, keeps showing up year after year. Well hey, ever thought that maybe that plastic tree isn’t so bad? It is the same tree that you have been using (recycling!) for the past umpteen years. Not only is this plastic tree getting reused every year, but you are not cutting down a tree every year, either.

But is that enough? Probably not. Most plastic trees are made in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan… And these trees most likely (I’m sure of it) use slave labor to be produced. But worse, these artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics or metals, and nonrenewable petroleum. These trees are not recyclable, so once your family discards them, they will share their Christmas cheer with the landfill forever.

So how about a Christmas tree that you find in the forest and chop down yourself? This is the organic, crunchy way to obtain your Christmas tree. But is it bad for the environment to chop down a tree in the forest just for holiday enjoyment? It would be if everyone did it this way, causing massive deforestation.

Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states in the USA. For every Christmas tree that is harvested, 2 to 3 seedlings are planted in its place. There are approximately one million acres of Christmas tree land, providing the daily oxygen needs for 18 people. Real trees are a renewable and recyclable resource. These trees are produced as an agricultural crop and every year Christmas tree growers replace cut trees with a new crop of seedlings. However, in addition to whatever natural, native plants where once there where now rows and rows of Christmas trees grow, these monocrop Christmas tree farms are usually heavily sprayed with pesticides, which you’re then inviting into your home. “As with most monocrops, Christmas trees are typically sprayed with potent fertilisers and herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate). Just how much Christmas cheer does that spread to local biodiversity and the seasonal workers hired to harvest the trees? Erase from your head any idyllic notion that these trees are carefully scythed from a snow-laden forest floor ready for your home.” Best to look for a tree that is sustainably grown, FSC Certified, and free from pesticides.

And, what happens when your Christmas lights ignite and light the tree on fire?

A plastic tree puts out dangerous toxic fumes into the air.

A real Christmas tree is less likely to catch fire, and when it does, the fumes are much less harmful.

So…pine or plastic? Neither.

Go to your local, independent nursery and pick out a live, potted tree to be used as a Christmas tree. My family and I chose a living “Christmas Tree”—a Cypress tree because my mom likes those around our house that we will plant after the holidays. Bonus points for buying a live tree that is native to your area so when you do plant it outside, not only will it be well suited for your environment but you won’t be introducing (or adding to) non-native species in your yard. (Fun fact: a family of birds moved into our “Christmas Tree” the following Spring.)


Via @waylonlewis on Instagram: Green Christmas tree? Neither natural nor plastic: get a potted tree that can handle indoor heat and dry air and reuse year after year or plant and get new each year. Friends and local nursery can advise. Tips, anyone?

Comments (many Boulder focused, where Waylon lives):

Meghan: Or decorate any greenery in your home. The spirit of the season doesn’t discriminate!

Another idea I like (if you happen to have a wall painted with chalkboard paint) is creating a chalk drawing of a tree and hanging real decorations. Slightly hipster-ish, yes, but delightfully crafty and unique!

Bradley: Nurseries! Then you can plant it later

Kelly S: My favorite is a potted Norfolk Island Pine. You can get one from a plant store (nursery) as a house plant and keep it for years and years. Mine is 10 years old and now 5 feet high. It’s a little Charlie Brownish if you like full spruce-like trees. But you only have to buy once.

Waylon Lewis: My friend Jeanne said most can’t be kept indoors, too hot, they’ll dry out? The Norfolk can handle, Kelly?

Bradley: Yes I have two Norfolk Island Pines (I’m from Norfolk VA lol) but it would be like Charlie Brown’s Christmas if you wanted to put a star on top as the branches aren’t too strong :-)…. A healthy tree could probably live indoors for a couple of weeks okay ….

Kelly: Yes, Norfolk need to be inside, and can’t be outside except in Summer. I have one from a small baby that was given to me at Christmas-time in 2003 or so. It was once about 6 inches tall and is now 5 feet. You have to use lightweight ornaments and lights but I love it. I bet the local plant stores will have small ones.

Kelly S: I have a white felt “dove of peace” that goes on top of my Norfolk each year

Pat: Norfolk Island Pines are at most greenhouses. Swedish straw ornaments are light and a rather green way to decorate 😉

Laurie: in my area, you can buy small evergreen trees in pots and bigger ones with rootball [to plant outside after holiday] in burlap sack, at garden nurseries.

Kelly S: Other alternative would be a very small rosemary shrub pruned to the shape of a Christmas tree. They are on sale at Whole Foods now. Table-top size.

Pat Smith: Lots of indirect light and weekly watering will keep your Norfolk Island Pine happy. My little Charlie Brown tree isn’t so little anymore. It’s been the xmas mainstay for 15 years. Cutting the paper children ring of holding hands goes toward the top; popcorn garlands are light and a Swedish straw star or angel go on top…lights trim the inside windows and votive candles too.

Hillary: McGuckins or Sturtz & Copeland.

Allyson: I read about a place in North Carolina that rents trees out for the holiday season and then takes them back. You can even rent the same one season after season. Too bad no one in colorado is doing that. Yet!!!

Kirsten Christ: Take I 25, to exit 235, then 5 miles west tooooo the tree farm!

Anne: I am fond of the tree farm on rte 52 — some call them overpriced but I am on their frequent flyer program and get a discount. I love the idea of a potted tree but I don’t nee to plant new trees — and also the pots of a decent sized tree are so heavy as to need some real equipment or labor to move it around. Such a tree indoors would ideally be in a room that can be closed off from the house so you can open the window at night to chill the tree.

Elena: Ive been toying with the idea of growing a dwarf citrus of some sort as my alternative Xmas tree. Citrus fruits are winter fruits, so it would grow its own bright, fragrant ornaments at just about the right time of year, and if I can keep it sunny enough it should have the added bonus of amazing fragrant flowers in the summer. And it feeds one of the few things I’m nostalgic for, as a CA transplant.

Lynn Johnson Hasselberger I think landscapers should rent them out for those who don’t have a place to plant them. Oh, I guess some do! I’ve been trying to find one in my area.

Betsy: We’ve been buying live trees for the holidays for about 10 years now and then plant it on Jan 1st as a new year/life tradition. Couple things you will want to do if you get a spruce or other pine (except for norfolk) gradually bring it in and gradually reintroduce it back out. If you have a shed or garage put it in there first for a couple days then you can bring it inside your house. Do the reverse when you want to plant it outside. When watering inside use a little water and alot of ice. The most important thing is to dig the hole now, cause the ground might get too hard at the end of December early Jan. I bet McGuks will have some happy pine trees. : )

Bob: They have them at the Nursery on highway 52 just east of 287 (or 95th, I can’t recall)

Waylon Lewis: Thanks, Bob! And all–I want to get a tree and hopefully plant it and then Xmas it up every year.

Bob: They have them lined up right in front, potted and ready to go.


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