The debate about the environmental friendliness of Christmas trees continues


tree close up
Consumers debate about the environmental safety of real and fake trees. (istockphoto)
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 7, 2017

Here’s a dilemma that’s common among Christmas-observing households around the holidays: Real tree or artificial tree?

The question goes a little further than skin-deep. There has long been a debate about the safety and eco-friendliness of the real tree versus the artificial tree, with parties on both sides presenting evidence for their claims. The goal, overall, is to figure out which one leaves a smaller carbon footprint–is it the fake tree, the one that you buy once and haul out of your closet every year for a decade, thus saving on transportation costs for the real tree? Or is it the real thing, a true Christmas pine tree, an all-natural, biodegradable organism that won’t be left in a landfill?

The numbers are tricky because they’re variable. A lot of the measurements depend on how the real tree was transported to a store or warehouse, how much fuel that took, how eco-friendly the harvesting process for real trees is. Fake tree fans usually make an interesting point: with a fake tree, you save literally a decade’s worth of production.

Real tree enthusiasts have their own retort: artificial trees are plastic. PVC plastic, actually. They are definitely reusable, but once they’re discarded, they end up in landfills and in the ecosystem with other bits of equally dangerous trash that will take years and years to break down properly. Most artificial trees are imported from China, but a consumer can more easily pick local businesses when searching for a real tree.

There is a general consensus that both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Whatever decision a consumer makes, researching before a purchase is one of the best ways to give back to the Earth this holiday season.

 

 

Environmentally friendly holiday tips!


  • Minimize your car use whenever possible to save gas and reduce air pollution. Take public transportation, carpool with a friend, or walk when you go shopping or to holiday parties.

 

  • Thousands of paper and plastic shopping bags end up in landfills every year. Bring your own reusable bags, or consolidate your gift purchases into one bag rather than getting a new bag at each store.

 

  • Buy gifts that are kinder to the environment, such as LED bulbs, low-flow shower heads, cloth shopping bags, a solar-powered calculator, educational eco-toys, refurbished computer, backyard composter, rain barrel, refillable thermos bottle, and recycled-content stationary and note pads.

 

  • About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Consider giving rechargeable batteries and battery charger to accompany electronic gifts.

 

  • Consider non-material gifts. How about a gift certificate or coupon for music lessons, pet-sitting, house cleaning, guided tours, pre-paid class registration, a massage at a local spa, or tickets to a sporting event, museum, concert or play? Give a monetary donation in a friend’s name to a favorite charity.

 

  • Make edible gifts, such as breads, cookies, preserves, dried fruits, nut mixes, or herbed vinegars. Give the baked goods in holiday tins or baskets that can be reused.

 

  • Invest in your family and friends. Instead of giving a gift, contribute to a child’s savings account, education IRA or give them a U.S. Savings Bond.

 

  • Think up creative gift wrapping ideas. Wrap gifts in the comics, old calendars or maps, decorated brown grocery bags, or a colorful piece of fabric. Also remember to save gift boxes, ribbons, bows and gift wrap to use next year.

 

  • When buying holiday cards, choose cards made from recycled paper. Or, make your own cards out of last year’s cards and the wrapping paper you saved. You can also try sending electronic greeting cards to reduce paper waste.
  • Photo by Virginia Millour; Flickr
  • Collect the foam peanut and bubble wrap from your purchases and take them to a mailing or shipping store where they can be reused.

 

  • Got a new microwave, toaster, clock radio, toy, or coat? Consider giving away your old appliances, toys, games, or clothing to a local charity or thrift store. Recycle or donate using the recycling locator at Earth911.com.

 

  • Consider upgrading to energy saving LED holiday lights and strands that are up to 90 percent more efficient than conventional incandescent holiday bulbs.

 

  • If you plan on entertaining, have clearly marked recycling containers at your party for guests to recycle their cans and bottles. Send leftover items home with guests in reusable containers.

 

  • After the holidays, look for ways to recycle your tree instead of sending it to a landfill. Check with your local solid waste department and find out if they collect and mulch trees.

 

  • If you’re going away from home for the holidays, turn down your thermostat and put lights on timers to save energy.
Work by HikingArtist.com

Holiday recycling guide


Photo by sonofnels, Flickr.

Holiday gift giving can result in an excess of waste – wrapping paper, styrofoam, bubble wrap, plastic packaging – but just how much of that material is recyclable?

A recent article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette seeks to provide a bit of clarity on this issue through the following sorting guide:

    • Wrapping paper – not recyclable, must be placed in the garbage
    • Tissue paper – not recyclable, must be place in the garbage or reused
    • Styrofoam – not recyclable, must be placed in the garbage
    • Shirt boxes – recyclable with the tissue paper removed
    • Cardboard toy boxes – recyclable with any plastic handles or twist ties removed
    • Shredded paper – recyclable, place in a paper bag to reduce the mess
    • Plastic bubble wrap – if bubbles are popped can be recycled at grocery stores with plastic bags

For more information on holiday recycling, check out the full article.