Tree Time

By Chandra Orr

September 5, 2008 5 min read

TREE TIME

Your holiday evergreen can be both beautiful and eco-friendly

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

Are those trees real or fake? Chances are you won't know until you touch them.

Artificial Christmas trees have come a long way in the last 10 years, which makes it hard to tell the difference between reproductions and the real thing.

One lasts a lifetime, sets up in a snap and offers instant symmetry for a picture-perfect ornament display. The other absorbs harmful carbon dioxide and provides homes for wildlife before gracing holiday revelers' homes with the sweet smell of pine and rich beauty only Mother Nature can create.

Which is more environmentally friendly? As with all things green, the answer isn't so simple.

Most mock trees are made from petroleum-based products and/or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a toxic substance that creates harmful dioxins during production, according to Corey Colwell-Lipson and Lynn Colwell, authors of "Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family." ($25, The Green Year). They also require a significant amount of energy and resources to produce, pack and ship.

However, conventional Christmas tree farmers use a wide range of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers in addition to thousands of gallons of water per year. The trees must then be shipped to retail markets on diesel trucks that dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Regardless of which option you choose, there are plenty of ways to get a "green" tree this season:

ARTIFICIAL TREES

* Buy for keeps. According to Colwell and Colwell-Lipson, people use artificial trees on average just four years before sending them to landfills. Spend the extra money and invest in a high-quality tree backed by a manufacturer's warranty so it's sure to last.

* Buy used. Vintage trees are the rage, so you'll be perfectly in style while saving a tree from a landfill. Look for trees made from aluminum, a non-renewable resource, like those from the Space Age 1950s.

* Sell or donate old trees. Many families would be happy to have your hand-me-down. Place an ad in the newspaper, donate the tree to a thrift store or offer it through the Freecycle Network (www.freecycle.org), a growing nonprofit movement that helps people exchange unwanted items for free.

LIVE TREES

* Buy local. If you live in New York, it doesn't make much sense to buy a tree shipped all the way from Oregon. By buying local, you'll get a fresher tree and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced during transport. To find an eco-friendly tree farmer in your area, visit www.localharvest.org.

* Buy organic. Look for certified organic farms or farms that use Integrated Pest Management, a combination of natural and mechanical pest control that reduces the need for chemicals. For more information on sustainable tree growing, visit www.christmastreecoalition.com.

* Cut your own tree. In many areas of the country, the U.S. Forest Service offers permits to harvest trees from national forests as a way to help manage the land. Permits cost about $10, with a limit of one tree per permit. For more information, visit www.fs.fed.us.

* Recycle your old tree. Chip it into mulch, compost it or use it to improve an existing wildlife habitat. In Porter County, Ind., for example, locals turn old trees into natural refuges for birds and other forest creatures. For recycling ideas and information on recycling programs in your area, visit www.christmastree.org.

* Pick a potted tree. Live potted evergreens offer perpetual freshness and serve as a living reminder of the holidays. Consult your local nursery for tree care and growing instructions, and be sure to address the temperature changes between indoors and outside. In some areas of the country, living Christmas trees can even be rented. Ask your local nursery or visit www.livingchristmastrees.org.

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