By: Tom McCann
Looking to ‘green’ some holiday traditions this year? Consider beginning with the centerpiece of holiday giving: the Christmas tree. Then go and cut one down. That’s right. You don’t need to feel bad about choosing a real tree over a fake one.
Christmas trees prove to be a very renewable resource, with more than 400 million growing on tree farms across the nation – more than the entire U.S. population. Each year tree farmers cut down approximately 10% of these trees to sell during the holiday season. For every Christmas tree that is cut down, tree farmers plant between one and three seedlings.
While they grow, usually about one foot per year, the Christmas trees collectively clean the air and water, provide habitat for animals, buffer the landscape from extreme weather and absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Since many trees sold in the Washington, D.C. area come from West Virginia, Virginia or Pennsylvania, the business of growing Christmas trees actually benefits the Chesapeake Bay, as well as local growers and economies. Other trees come from tree farms in North Carolina where they provide benefits to their waters – consider it a holiday gift to our neighbors to the south.
On the other hand, shipping fake Christmas trees from overseas where eighty-five percent of them are manufactured leaves an enormous carbon footprint on the planet. So do their ingredients, mainly polyvinyl chloride -- a type of plastic that is very difficult to return to nature.
After they are unpacked from the basement or attic for an average of five or six years, most fake Christmas trees up in a landfill. That’s not the case with fresh cut trees, which can be immediately returned to nature after the holidays are over. If you live in Washington, The Department of Public Works will also pick up, and chip your tree for use as mulch after the holiday season continuing the benefits to nature. Follow your usual waste pick up schedules and place trees and wreaths next to your trash and recycling containers between December 31st and January 12th. Be sure to remove all ornaments and do not put the trees in plastic or cloth bags. Outside the District, check your local city government website for rules.
And don’t stop there. From the tree down to the gifts, make choices that are good for nature and friends and family. Consider hanging locally made and bought ornaments. Create homemade cards. And give the gift of an experience such as a kayaking trip on the Potomac, a camping trip to one of Maryland or Virginia’s State or National Parks, or a day out at one of The Nature Conservancy’s preserves. The recipient will thank you, and the planet surely will.
Green Living: Ideas for People and Nature is written by Nature Conservancy staff exploring ways to live greener every day. www.nature.org/peopleandnature