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A Different Christmas Tree
Sarah Rich, 25 Dec 05

Well, it's December 25 already, so you're either opening presents or ordering Chinese. For those of you partaking in the Christmas revelry, you've already got your tree decked to the nines. But for next year, here are a few thoughts about new ways to do the old tree that might be just a little friendlier on the environment, the landfills, and the health of your loved ones - or at the very least, might add a little novelty to a long-honored tradition.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association:

-Approximately 25 million-30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the nation every year.

-An acre of Christmas Trees produces the daily oxygen for 18 people.

-Eighty percent of artificial trees are manufactured in China, and most are made with PVC and other plastics, which do not biodegrade and which contain enough lead to legally require a warning label.

Don't let this depress you on Christmas! Instead, may we suggest a Rent-a-Tree? Or perhaps you would like to grow your own?

There are plenty of people out there who actually attest that "Real Christmas Trees" have real environmental benefits, doing all the oxygen-producing, CO2-absorbing work that any good trees do, and more of it. Christmas trees also make up a very real industry, which creates jobs and supports the economy. But this doesn't change the fact that people chop 15-year-old trees down for a few short weeks of pleasure, then kick them to the curb, only to cause chaos with garbage collection and landfills. And the fake ones? Need we say more than: lead poisoning?

San Francisco got some attention last week for their new Rent-a-Tree program, which provides a variety of tree species to families for the holiday season. They can be strung with popcorn and tinsel just like their disposable cousins, but come early January, the city will pick them up and plant them in a neighborhood that needs some greening. This is not the first program of its kind. The Original Living Christmas Tree Company in Oregon has been providing this service for some time. It's not the cheapest route, but it definitely represents the spirit of giving that characterizes this season.

If you want something cheaper, how about a DIY tree? The Yule Tree-To-Be Kit provides you with seeds to grow your own Noble Fir. This is a great idea for marking an important first (first Xmas together, baby's first Xmas, etc.), and it grows in size and meaning as the years pass.

For today, please enjoy yourselves and your tree - whatever its origins and future. We wish you a wonderful holiday and a bright new year.

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So how much oxygen does an acre of untouched forest produce? Tree rental is a great idea, but you'll have to go a way to convince me that mass farming for seasonal decoration is a good idea.

Posted by: Cat on 25 Dec 05

But this doesn't change the fact that people chop 15-year-old trees down for a few short weeks of pleasure, then kick them to the curb, only to cause chaos with garbage collection and landfills. And the fake ones? Need we say more than: lead poisoning?

I like the tradition of 'burning of the greens'. Tulsa where I grew up held this event in a city park every January - huge bonfire, hundreds of trees lit up in a glorious blaze. In Texas we held this even at the local Episcopal church. No religous meaning behind it that I recall, simply a good time to gather together in fellowship.

Yes, burning a bad horrid idea of course. Very un pc - and all that carbon; the horror. But really - better to clutter up the landfill or burn 'em up? With the latter option you get hot chocolate ...

you'll have to go a way to convince me that mass farming for seasonal decoration is a good idea.

It's not, really, a bad thing. The land is being used, it's forested, managed and cared for in a way that you'll not get if the land is lying fallow.

Posted by: Brian on 25 Dec 05

This is also a reason to push your local sanitation firms to switch to composting and other methods for "disposal" of organic matter. The average person isn't going to give up their trees any sooner than they give up their car, but we can at least reduce the side-effects.

Like many, we had to trim our tree to make it fit properly in the house. Instead of "disposing" of the cut branches, we used them as ground coverage in a couple of places where we have erosion problems. If possible, I'll trim off many branches before we "dispose" of it to fill in other areas.

It's not going to win us any landscaping awards, but it's a way to make up for the previous homeowner's neglect of the topsoil.

Posted by: jet on 25 Dec 05

Speaking for Christmas tree country, I feel I need to point out that evergreen trees are a renewable crop. Unlike food crops, tree farming does not require disturbing the soil every year; this means little top soil run off. Trees also need very little to nothing in the way of fertilizer, very little labor. They provide different kinds of habitat for animal life since acreage planted with trees typically varies in maturity. Newly planted fields provide more grassland-type habitat while young to mature trees provide windbreaks to adjoining fields with edible crops as well as habitat suitable for perching birds. Deer and other wildlife frequent tree-planted fields as well. Christmas tree farms are not always harvested, either, for use as holiday ornaments; it's not uncommon for a plot to end up reaching full maturity and eventual use as lumber after decades of uninterrupted growth. Tree farming provides a greener alternative to landowners who must find some way to offset the cost of property taxes than farming or property development. In this state in the tree farming region, the alternatives are clear-cutting for grazing, clear cutting and farming for edible crops (which may or may not succeed in a short growing season or on hilly terrain), fruit tree farming or land development (either of which require clear cutting). Fruit farming requires much more labor, may use more pesticides (most fruit farming here is not organic).

The challenge as I see it here in Christmas tree country is development of incentives for greener and more financially viable tree farming over other land use alterantives. Incentives for replanting immediately in trees would also ensure that tree farms are not replaced by other land use alternatives; market demand has done a lot to continue tree farming, but discouraging natural Christmas tree use will work against this end.

As for disposal of trees: mulch them. Period. Every community has issues with disposal of yard waste like pruned, fallen or dead trees, grass clippings and leaves; Christmas trees should be handled in same way, by chipping and using them as mulch. This mulch can be used by the community in both public and private settings; if it's made available freely, more consumers may use it instead of commercial landscaping products made using petroleum products.

Posted by: Rayne on 26 Dec 05



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