To tree or not to tree, that is the question?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

You will be surprised which is more green...

norway-spruce-smlNow that Christmas is only a few weeks away from us the annual question arises as to which tree is more “green”, the artificial one or the real one.

Many people will rather surprised as to the reality of things for it is not the artificial one that is greener and better than the real one. It is the real one that is the most environmentally friendly Christmas tree.

I know that there are people that will disagree and come up with the notion that they would save trees, real trees, by buying an artificial Christmas tree. This is not the case as the real trees are – one – only grown for the very purpose of becoming Christmas trees of whatever size and – two – during their growth, however short the lifespan, sequestrate carbon at the normal rate and thus make the real Christmas tree way more environmentally friendly than any artificial one.

The fake tree is made of some sort of plastic materials which are more likely petroleum-based and are manufactured and definitely have, therefore, a serious environmental footprint.

Even the Nature Conservancy will agree with this that the real Christmas tree, even if it is being cut off and is not a rooted one – but you could buy one of them and plant it somewhere nice afterward for it to continue to grow for the rest of its life.

We all love trees and so do I but then I would say that, wouldn't I. After all I am a professional forester by original trade. However, trees clean our air and water, store our carbon, and lend a hand in creating many of life's needful things, from our homes and furniture to our America's beloved Louisville Sluggers.

Many would, therefore, say that we should never, ever cut one down for the sole purpose of decorating our living rooms for the month of December, right? Actually, wrong. If you choose a real Christmas tree over an artificial one you may count yourself among the “greener” and more environmentally friendly celebrants of Christmas and here is why:

30 million trees are harvested annually for Christmas in the United States alone, out of the 350-500 million growing on tree farms across the country. As each year's trees are harvested for sale, there are more than ten times as many left standing. A tradition of buying real trees keeps tree farms in business – and their lands covered in forest instead of development.

On the other hand, about 10 million artificial trees are purchased each year in the United States of which 90% are shipped to the U.S. from China. Artificial trees also are not recyclable unlike their real counterparts. Those trees are full of carbon dioxide, so to speak, and have an environmental footprint the size of an elephant's.

Want to make your already green choice by going for a real tree even greener?

Visit a cut-your-own tree farm instead of purchasing a pre-cut tree or ask your local forestry area as to cut-your-own trees. In many countries and areas this is possible. You pay a fee, get a chitty giving you the right to cut a tree of this or that size and you can wonder into the forest, to a given area, and can cut your very own tree to take home. That way, you'll know for certain that it wasn't shipped in from outside your local area.

Use LED lights instead of the old incandescent ones or, heaven forbid, use real candles.

Forget the non-recyclable tinsel and make garland out of paper or use soda ring pulls.

Keep using heirloom ornaments year after year, but if you're still looking to fill some space on the tree, you don't have to go the store-bought route. Try turning old Christmas cards or a child's artwork into ornaments. Or go for a walk to collect pine cones and decorate with glue and glitter. Another favorite of my family was to make ornaments from walnut shells. Once nut meat extracted, glue back together adding a string for a hanger and then wrap tightly with silver or gold paper. The paper was recycled from tobacco backs.

If you are planning to purchase ornaments, choose wooden ones over plastic. When you travel during the year, pick up a painted wood ornament from the destination you visit. Soon you'll have a collection of ornaments that bring back memories of trips with friends and family.

There is a lovely tradition in some parts of Germany where in the run up to Christmas stores such as Drugstores and Grocery Stores, from about beginning of November, give a variety of different ornaments free with purchases. I still have a ceramic moon with an angel seated in it from many years back when I was stationed in that country and which came from a Drugstore.

Best are homemade decorations, though, in my mind and there are a great many ideas to be found on the Internet.

So, have a happy and green Christmas with a real tree.

© 2010