Thursday, December 18, 2008

Which is Better, a Fresh-Cut, a Living, or an Artificial Christmas Tree?

There is an on-going debate between Americans who buy fresh-cut Christmas trees, those who nurture living trees (like moi), and those who prefer artificial trees. I am in the middle of this debate because I have a live tree that I have decorated recently. It is sitting on top of my computer desk festooned with a Santa's head on top and small-size ornaments all over. I used to belong to the first group, buying fresh-cut trees from the Christmas tree lot two weeks before the big day. But because of the progressively worsening economic condition, we stopped buying Douglas and Noble firs and other good-smelling trees when their prices hit the high thirties.

After we stopped buying fresh-cut trees, we purchased an artificial tree that had a real pine tree trunk and pine cones and artificial pine needles. I guess this tree would qualify as a hybrid. It is not a fresh-cut tree; but it is not a true artificial tree either. In the looks department, it could pass for a real pine tree -- from a distance; and in the scents department, it scores a big 0. The store in Van Nuys, California, where I bought this hybrid Christmas tree from, had suggested buying one of their cans of pine scent sprays. I thought acceding to that suggestion would be pushing the envelope way too far. So I said "no, thank you" to the sales associate.

According to an article published by TIME Magazine a couple of weeks ago, a sustainability firm, PE Americas, had found that owning an artificial tree -- like 50 million other American households -- resulted in lower carbon emissions in a decade, compared to buying a real tree for 10 years in a row because of the gasoline used to transport a cut tree from farm to the living room. The trade-off, however, is that the study was sponsored by the American Christmas Tree Association and focused on carbon emissions. That study seems to work in favor of the makers of artificial trees. But this is not altogether true because most artificial trees are made in China and shipped to all corners of the globe, and that involves usage of fossil fuel also.

Asserts Rick Dungey, NCTA communications director: "Even if you use a fake tree for 10 years, when you throw it away, it's not biodegradable. It's always better to use a natural product over an artificial one."

Adding fuel to the debate is the material used in making artificial trees: polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic that's hard to recycle and poses a threat to children's health, according to Mike Schade, the PVC campaign coordinator for the activist group Center for Health, Environment and Justice. He claims that older plastic trees tend to contain higher levels of lead, a deadly neurotoxin.

At the other end of the debate, the greens are recommending buying a live tree with the root ball intact, keeping it alive through the Christmas season, and then finding a place to replant it. The last requirement goes against my ilk because, as an apartment dweller, I do not own the ground around my abode. Which explains why my living pine tree continues to thrive in a red plastic pot three years after we bought it from the Home Depot in Hollywood. What it is is a planter, taking in the sunlight outdoors eleven-and-a-half months of the year and serving its purpose as a decoration inside my apartment during the Christmas season.

According to the TIME article, there is a company in Portland, Oregon called Original Living Christmas Tree Co. that delivers potted trees for a rental. A few days after New Year's Day, its workers will pick up the living trees and deliver them to parks, schools and other institutions, whose owners are only too eager to fork over $10 for a tree to have them re-planted in their yards. Listen to John Fogel, founder of the company: "We're set to do over 400 trees this year. I want people to feel good about trees."

Even the Sierra Club has a take on the debate. "Kids are so out of touch with nature," offers Bob Schildgen, Sierra Club's environmental advice columnist. "Just having a living thing in the house can enhance environmental values in a way you can't measure in dollars and cents."

I feel good already. Happy Holidays to everyone who happen to stumble on this blogspot!

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