Ask Eartha: What type of Christmas tree is best for the environment?
I want a real Christmas tree but feel bad about cutting down a tree. As I learn the impact of fake trees, I wonder which is the better choice.
To some, nothing is better than the sweet, piney smell of a fresh-cut tree with glimmering lights — LED, of course. For others, the holiday brings a tradition of pulling that same beloved, already-strung-with-lights-tree from the storage box and making it look fluffy again.
Many Americans love to celebrate the winter holidays with a tree, and it isn’t always a religious symbol. As we each forge our own story during the holidays, which tree adventure will you choose?
Choose your own adventure: real trees
Real trees have a positive effect on the environment. Like other plants, real trees inside your home remove pollen and dust. Once cut, Christmas trees continue to capture carbon and store it in their branches, roots and needles. Purchasing a real Christmas tree supports local tree farmers and helps maintain a healthy forest for generations to come. When it comes to real trees, you’ve got options.
Show up and cut: Commercial Christmas tree farmers grow and sculpt trees that are sold to individuals. Trees grow to an average of 7 years old and one to three seedlings are planted to replace it when harvested. The few Christmas tree farms in Colorado are mostly on the Front Range.
Tree farms tend to be in areas where other crops don’t perform well. Tree farms help control erosion and provide animal habitat. If it brings you holiday cheer to have the perfect fluffy tree and support local businesses, a tree farm may be your adventure.
Rugged, with research required: Last year, the U.S. Forest Service issued more than 200,000 Christmas tree permits nationwide. Natural trees are usually less dense in their branches, and this type of tree (and the trek it requires) is tradition for some.
Getting a Christmas tree permit is easy (and a steal at just $10!) with permits available through the Forest Service on Recreation.gov, the Bureau Land Management site and in person at local ranger stations. Better yet, if you have a fourth grader you can receive a free permit through Every Kid Outdoors.
For adventure-seekers willing to bundle up and trek through snow, this may be the adventure for you. Local ranger stations can help you find cutting areas and familiarize you with tree species, which is critical. Finally, you’ll need to pack the 10 essentials for woodsy travel.
Convenience Christmas: For the ultimate in convenience, you can order Christmas trees from online retailers like Amazon who ship them directly to your door. Local nurseries, and even the Boy Scouts, offer Christmas tree sales so you can support small businesses and fundraisers. And many big box stores nearby also have real trees. Even large chains source their real trees from the U.S. or Canada.
A fake tree is just that — fake
Artificial trees are made from plastic and contain a variety of chemicals and toxins. Yet, it’s what most people in the U.S. own or purchase. In a study by Rocket Homes, about 60% of people think artificial trees are more eco-friendly, mainly for their ability to be reused. Yet, many weren’t made to last. And the ones that do endure are far more expensive. Keep in mind that 90% of the 10 million artificial trees sold each season are shipped from China, which creates additional pollution from all of that transportation. Regardless of how long you keep an artificial tree, it will end up in the landfill.
Where a real tree ends up is an important part of this holiday adventure. In Summit County, use a designated drop-off zone to have your tree turned into High County compost. Just be sure to remove ornaments, ribbons, lights and the bases. There’s also the option to have your real tree burned at the Spontaneous Combustion Bonfire in Frisco.
For artificial trees owners, keeping and storing the tree for many years can lessen the environmental impact. When you’re ready to retire it, repurposing is the best option before its eventual disposal in the landfill.
Remember that a tree is one small part of an extremely wasteful time of year. This holiday season, I challenge you to create a less wasteful story, one that lasts long after the halls are decked with boughs of holly.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to email@example.com.
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