Is that Christmas tree ‘green’?
December 6, 2007
ASPEN ” Charlie Brown of cartoon fame presses the point each year at this time that selecting the right Christmas tree isn’t as important as what you do with it.
The environmentally conscious might reply, “Good grief.”
Selecting a “green” tree doesn’t mean what it used to, now that the planet is warming. There is a growing debate within the environmental community about whether revelers should buy a cut tree, go artificial, decorate a live tree that they can later plant or simply do without.
It’s enough to make even the most green among us squirm.
“If someone’s bad-mouthing Christmas trees, they’re going to be a pariah forever,” said Gary Goodson, director of the Aspen-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency.
His family sidesteps the debate by decorating with wreaths, but he certainly understands that a tree is an important part of many family’s festivities. He suggested going with a live tree that can be planted once the ground thaws.
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Kim Peterson, the global warming project manager for the city of Aspen, said there is no cut-and-dry answer to the question of what is best.
“I can’t tell you the carbon footprint of each option,” said Peterson, who is partial to a cut tree, as long as it is mulched after the holidays.
She noted that many national forests, including the White River surrounding Aspen, issue permits for cutting Christmas trees and direct people to places where varieties are crowding one another. Residents can celebrate Christmas and improve forest health with a swing of an ax.
At first blush, plastic trees seem easy to vilify. But not so fast. The Daily Green, a website that touts itself as “the consumer’s guide to the green revolution,” looked at the Christmas tree selection dilemma with a lead story Monday.
It reported that many artificial trees are made in China with oil-derived PVC that will last for centuries in landfills once they are discarded. But The Daily Green founder Deborah Barrow said her website concluded that artificial trees cannot be demonized.
Advocates say consumers of artificial trees can avoid the annual shipping required with cut trees and the gas guzzled while transporting one home. They also eliminate the need for irrigation and pesticides. U.S. manufacturers, such as one in New Jersey, reduce the chances of contamination with lead and other toxins in manufacturing, The Daily Green said.
The Daily Green’s research showed that 29 million U.S. households bought cut trees in 2006, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. But “roughly 70 percent of Americans choose artificial,” it reported. The full report can be found at http://www.thedailygreen.com.
Barrow, who chooses a cut tree, said she started her website, which is part of Hearst Magazines Digital Media, because people are seeking information and guidance on green products. She believes the question of which type of Christmas tree is most environmentally friendly is a perfect example of an issue that people are now examining “through a green lens.”
Michael Brown, an environmental consultant in Santa Barbara, Calif., said people should “absolutely” be asking questions about lifestyle choices, even as seemingly insignificant as Christmas trees.
“This is an example of how there are trade-offs to everything. Everybody wants to do better,” he said.
Brown opined that cut trees are a better option than artificial ones.
“A tree farm is not a tree farm is not a tree farm,” he said.
Buying from a local tree farm avoids burning fuel for shipping. And farms that can limit irrigation and avoid mono-culture agriculture practices, which require heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, are best.
Being Jewish, Brown skips the tree and avoids the dilemma. He said environmentally concerned consumers should not be embarrassed about asking questions. The time has come to examine all aspects of our lifestyles.
“Even if it’s as simple as ‘Do you know where your tree comes from,’ it’s a start,” he said.
He suggested asking attendants at Christmas tree lots about the practices of their farms. Don’t buy if you aren’t satisfied with the answers. That not only educates the consumer, it lets retailers know people care about environmental issues.
And, of course, once your tree is purchased, the green route to go is to decorate with energy-efficient LED lights. They use about one-fourth of the electricity of incandescent light bulbs.