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[greenyes] To tree or not to tree?

For all you who have wrestled with the question...fake or real? Here's
one opinion, from Grist Magazine.
Merry merry!

Heidi Feldman
Public Education Coordinator
Monterey Regional Waste Management District
Tel.: 831/384-5313 FAX: 831/384-3567

O, Say, Can You Tree?
On Christmas trees
By Umbra Fisk
08 Dec 2004

Dear Umbra,

Please settle our office dispute. Which is better for the environment:
real or fake Christmas trees? Some believe that cutting down juvenile
trees, displaying them for two weeks, then throwing them in the garbage
is destructive, wasteful, and highly unfriendly to the environment.
Others say that the Christmas-tree business keeps land that would
otherwise be developed in trees, if only for a short while. Besides,
fake trees are made of plastic, which is made from petroleum. (But you
can keep using them for many years.)

Washington, D.C.

Dearest Trisha,

Ah, yes, that annual question: What does the Gristmas tree look like? I
think our office is going to get more of a Christmahanukkwanzaa cheese
sculpture type of item.

You might be shocked to learn that I fell in love with artificial trees
while researching this question. Fake-tree outlets have truly choice
names: House of Trees, Christmas in America, Christmas Depot. The
branches can hook or hinge or clip onto the trees, like a giant tinker
toy, and you can order any tree you like, in a huge variety of genus and
species. Even better, you can get a pre-lit tree or a pre-frosted tree
(I think it's supposed to look like snow, not icing) or a tree with a
warranty. Now, that's a family heirloom to which nature cannot hold a
candle. (Petrified trees are so few and far between.) Imagine my
devastation, then, while cruising around in the World Wide Woods, to
discover that my newly beloved fake trees are PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
in yet another guise. Such a brief, intense love affair.

Remember: no on vinyl, and that's final. We are boycotting vinyl to the
greatest extent possible, people. The bright side is that it takes the
debate out of the artificial Christmas tree dilemma.

Well, almost. You may be able to hack your way through the
above-mentioned online forests and find a little trail leading to a
non-PVC grove. Christmas Tree for Me is carrying a molded polyethylene
noble fir, which, the salesperson assured me, is the fake tree of the
future. Polyethylene is not the focus of our plastics ire (remember, I'm
trying to simplify our decisions by obsessing about PVC and not worrying
unduly about other plastics), but be warned: these simulacra are costly.
The noble fir is two feet tall and runs you $139. That's almost six
bucks an inch.

Other than the polyethylene grove, I've looked on site after site and
called various places, and I can tell you that polyvinyl chloride is the
monoculture of the artificial forest. Even worse, lead is apparently
used to stabilize certain PVC products, which is why you'll see a label
on faux Christmas trees cautioning you to avoid inhaling or eating any
bits of lead dust that may fall from the "branches" of the family
heirloom. Now, I'm not saying you need to run screaming from the house,
but between the lead and the vinylness, I just can't support artificial

If you must have a tree, the good old-fashioned wooden kind is the right
option. That does not necessarily make them a great option, though, and
you should do your tree-selecting with care. Christmas trees are an
agricultural product and carry the attendant issues of all mass
agriculture. There are trees grown with pesticides and herbicides vs.
organic specimens, there are family operations vs. large-scale
producers, etc. The bottom line: Go for the actual tree and try to
support a small-scale sustainable grower if you can.

Now, some eco-tip-happy folks will suggest additional options. There's
the "Buy a live tree and plant it" option, which I think is excessively
poor advice if you a) live in a city or b) are susceptible to charging
ahead with plantings inappropriate to your landscape. More reasonably,
there's the "Don't buy a tree at all!" option, which I trust you have
all already considered. If not: Have you thought about having no tree
and living vicariously through the trees of others, decorating a living
exterior tree, decorating a house plant, or making your own tree as an
ambitious crafts project?


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