Flower Gardening

Live Trees: A Simple Way to Help the Environment

By Sarah Marcheschi

Artificial Trees Aren’t Eco-Friendly

Since they can be reused year after year, at first glance artificial trees might appear to be a much more responsible choice for consumers who have concerns about environmental impact. But a closer look reveals that, while the fake trees are reusable, they are not biodegradable. This means that when you do get around to tossing them out, (and you will, their average life span in most homes is only 6-10 years), they can be expected to while away eternity in landfills, the garish triangular ghosts of Christmas past.

The vast majority of artificial trees imported to North America are shipped from China, and made of PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, a petroleum derived plastic that is used in a number of products from construction materials to childrens’ toys, medical equipment, and even the interiors of cars. Despite its widespread use, PVC is a nonrenewable pollutant that can’t be recycled, and it is frequently the subject of controversy concerning the potential health risks it may pose to its users. For stabilization purposes, metals like lead, tin, or barium are often used during the manufacture of PVC, and trace amounts of these substances have been detected in artificial Christmas trees in the past.

PVC is also known to release gases known as volatile organic compounds, (VOC’s). These gases can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, and cause coughing, dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Not what most of us hope to contend with while posing for family portraits or unwrapping our gifts on Christmas morning! On top of all of that, the production of PVC results in the emission of carcinogens such as the toxin dioxin, and the carbon footprint involved in transporting trees from the site of manufacture here to the United States is often sizable.

Tree Farms Help the Environment and Community

Even though conservation concerns are frequently cited as a key factor in the decision to purchase an artificial tree, cutting down a live tree can actually present a more environmentally conscious alternative. Gone are the days when wild trees in the United States were felled right from the forests. Today, the Department of Agriculture estimates that approximately half a million acres of land are devoted to farming Christmas trees each year. And in all fifty states! This means that you shouldn’t have to travel very far to find one, and when you do, you should definitely feel no remorse about cutting it down. At least no more than you might feel about picking apples or roasting an ear of corn. That’s because just like corn or soybeans, Christmas trees are grown as a crop on farms, and harvested for sale during the holiday season. They spend most of their lives on the farm contributing to a healthy ecosystem. The trees supply oxygen and remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air, they help to stabilize the soil, and they provide refuge and a natural habitat for birds, insects, and wild animals.

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