earth friendly
Positively Green

By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.

To Tree or Not to Tree…The Green Holiday Question

With a growing environmental awareness, more and more families are questioning whether to use a real or artificial holiday tree in their decorating. Aside from any safety concerns that might be present, there is an ongoing environmental debate regarding the pros and cons of using natural or artificial trees. What are the questions and how can you choose? Read on!

Q.) I can reuse my artificial tree, and you need to cut down a new natural tree every year. Isn’t this a waste of resources?

A.) Christmas trees are farmed in many areas of the United States and Canada as a crop, much as other vegetable crops. These spaces dedicated to specifically growing trees are often viewed as mixed open and forest area, which is attractive to some animal species. Continuing to grow trees in a dedicated area keeps the land open and undeveloped for residential housing. A mature trees are cut, new trees are replanted to be harvested at a later date. In addition, the useful lifetime of an artificial tree is generally a few years, which requires the tree then be disposed of in a landfill, where it can last for many, many years.

Q.) Aren’t the herbicides and other chemicals applied to trees in tree farms? Isn’t that bad for the environment?

A.) It can be, yes. Depending on he nature of the tree farm there may be various chemicals used against pests or undesirable plants. Some tree farms use organic means of controlling pests and plants; ask your local tree farm about their practices if you would like to make an informed choice.

Q.) Aren’t artificial trees better for allergies than real trees?

A.) It depends on what allergens you are allergic to. Trees can bring in many different allergens from outside, including dust, pollen, or other wind-borne allergens. On the other hand, some studies have linked the PVC plastic used in most artificial trees to several different health problems. Likewise, when removed from storage once a year, artificial trees can hold lots of dusts that is released into your home when the tree is set up.

Q.) Aren’t real trees a fire hazard?

A.) All trees can be a fire hazard, especially when combining electricity, potentially hot bulbs and a source of fuel (a tree of any kind, as well as the decorations all over the tree). Real trees must be properly card for indoors to retain moisture to reduce their potential as a fire hazard. Artificial pre-lit trees should be carefully inspected each year for wiring safety. No tree should ever be left lit unattended, no lights that have questionable wiring should ever be used, only UL rated lights should be used, trees should not remain lit when the family goes to bed, and bulbs that get hot should not be used. On any tree. Period.

Q.) How about a live tree that I can replant after Christmas? Isn’t that enviro-friendly?

A.) It depends on your local climate and how you take care of the tree. Most trees that are purchased with root balls do not survive their tenure as a Christmas tree. Some become dried out and unable to survive from being in the house, with their roots and needles dying off. Other trees reawaken from their dormant state while they are indoors, and then are unable to survive in the outdoor temperatures once they are returned outside. Before purchasing a balled root tree, talk to your local nursery or tree farmer to get more information on how it can work in your area.

Q.) What do you do with a real tree once you’re done with it? My trash collectors won’t take it!

A.) Some towns are not equipped to handle the large numbers of trees that find themselves on the curb the week after the holidays. But you may not need to rely on them to clear away your tree. Depending on your area, some possible uses of your old tree are: entertainment for elephants at a local zoo (contact your local zoo to see if they accept donations); compost/mulch; leave outside as a winter bird feeding station; or, make a branch pile for ground-dwelling wildlife, such as bunnies, to live in during the winter. Just remember, whatever you choose to do with your tree, make sure all decorations, especially tinsel, are removed before bringing the tree outside or giving it to animals.

The questions of real vs. artificial tree will likely continue to go on for many years to come. Some families have made entire Christmas traditions around finding “the perfect tree” each year at a tree farm; others enjoy taking their tree out of storage long before any real tree can be placed in the house. Indeed, as with most environmental topics, there are questions to both sides of the issue. However, learning more about both sides means that your family will be able to make a choice that for them is Positively Green.

Happy holidays to all of our readers! See you in 2010!

Jennifer Cummings

Ms. Cummings, author, and editor of the Education and School Section, she has a psychology and an M.Ed. in special education from Framingham State College in Massachusetts. She was an elementary teacher in Massachusetts serving both regular education and special education students. She has taught grades 1,4, and 5.

"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings. CummingsPositively Greenpositively-greenPositively Green By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed. To Tree or Not to Tree...The Green Holiday Question By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed. With a growing environmental awareness, more and more families are questioning whether to use a real or artificial holiday tree in their decorating. Aside from any safety concerns that might be...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids