Kristen Breunig: Christmas trees: Real is better than fake
alpine earth center
Lately there seems to be a popular belief that fakes can be better than the real thing. I suppose there are some valid points in certain situations where we would prefer fake over real, like buying off-brand clothes because it essentially is the same thing but half the price. Since this is the holiday season we are actually talking about fake Christmas trees (artificial) vs. real ones.
During this time of year, it is so fun to see all the trees decorated with holiday lights and ornaments. I love walking into the house and catching the smell of fresh pine from my Christmas tree. Of course, everyone has their own thoughts about fake vs. real. What is the big draw toward one over another?
Some people believe it’s better for the environment to have a fake Christmas tree. However, this is a poor argument and a huge misconception. Many hazardous chemicals – including dioxins and furans, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, mercury, and phthalates – are used or released in the manufacture and disposal of PVC, the plastic compound that makes up your “silk” needles. Vinyl chloride, the key building block of PVC, is a known human carcinogen, can increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer, impact the nervous system, and has been linked to an increased incidence of birth defects. Also, if the tree were to catch fire, it would burn more quickly than a real tree and now you have plastic melting in your home. This of course is not environmentally safe, and I am sure the unpleasant odor would linger. For those who do have a fake Christmas tree please be sure to unplug them at night.
Another misconception is that this tree will last you forever, but like so many things that promise that, it is not always the case. On average people will replace the fake tree after about five years because it starts to look very shabby. How do you recycle this tree when you feel it is time to replace? Being composed of wire and poly vinyl chloride, they are not recyclable. These trees also contain lead to keep the needles soft. That is why they contain a warning label. A side note about purchasing the fake trees is normally this money will go over to China, where 85 percent of them are manufactured – doing nothing to boost our economy, and one can only imagine the health hazards involved in that process. We cannot be too harsh on artificial trees, they do provide someone a livelihood, whether they are American or not, and for many with allergies it is a good substitute.
Making the investment each year of a real Christmas tree helps our economy and environment in more ways than one. Buying a Christmas tree is essentially like purchasing broccoli. It is planted, grown for several years, harvested, sold and then the process will start again next year – the circle of life. Of course while each of these trees is growing it is providing clean oxygen into the air, sequestering CO2, and providing a habitat for wildlife. When someone does purchase a real Christmas tree, he or she helps support our agricultural growth, which at this time we need more than ever to boost our own economy. Purchase a natural Christmas tree, and every time you walk into your home it smells wonderful from that fresh pine, and you get some satisfaction knowing you support an American’s livelihood and our environment. When the holiday season is over there are many options for how you can dispose of your tree. If you purchase a live tree, you can plant it in your yard. With a farm-raised cut tree, you can take it to the local municipality where they will turn the tree into mulch. How is that for recyclable?
I hope you will continue the lovely tradition of going out and picking out the best real Christmas tree for your family. To those who use the fake ones: Maybe when it is time to toss it, you will consider joining the rest of us in setting up the real thing.
Kristen Breunig works at Alpine Earth Center, parent company of landscape company Alpine Garden and Alpine Solar Design in Silverthorne. (970) 468-8189
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