Sustainable Christmas trees

Sound Consumer | December 2009

from the editors

(December 2009) — Which is more sustainable — a live-cut Christmas tree or an artificial tree that lasts many years?

We’ve had both, not being sure of what’s more naughty or nice. So when we saw an editorial on this question in our regional agriculture paper, the Capital Press, we thought ’tis the season to share what it said.

The Capital Press says there’s not enough eggnog to swallow the tale told by the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA). ACTA’s stated mission is to help consumers make educated decisions about Christmas trees but represents the interests of artificial tree manufacturers.

A study that it commissioned declared it “substantially better” to buy a manufactured tree than drive out to a farm. It pointed to the fuel used in driving live-cut trees from the farm to a retail lot, then home, concluding fake trees have a smaller carbon footprint.

Humbug, say tree farmers. Those from the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association say ACTA’s conclusion is “an exercise in fiction.” A national trade organization for Christmas tree farmers wonders if ACTA feels the same way about people driving to a farm to pick their own fruit!

It notes that fake trees are made from polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastic (not from a renewable resource and not biodegradable), plus they contain softeners called phthalates that interfere with the hormonal system. Making and incinerating PVC releases dioxin, a hormone disruptor and potent carcinogen.

The tree farm groups say living Christmas trees are a renewable resource and produce oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide. Trees reduce erosion, provide habitat for wildlife, and are 100 percent biodegradable, while artificial trees eventually wind up in landfills.

So, while you indulge in sugar plums and the lights of the season, give a ho, ho, ho and thanks to the Christmas tree farmers across the nation. If you already have a manufactured tree, just keep using it as long as you can!

For information about recycling trees, contact your county’s waste service provider.

More about: holidays, sustainability, trees

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