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Christmas Trees - Real or Plastic?

For many, decorating the Christmas tree is our favourite part of the holiday season. There is nothing as magical. It makes the beautiful out of the ordinary standing as a symbol of shared values, peace and hope. It holds the remembrances of old treasures and the promise of new life and there is an undercurrent of a stillness which reminds us of the importance of being close to each other, close to the earth and close to those who have gone before.

Every year, there is a huge debate over Christmas trees -- how damaging they are to the environment and whether or not buying a real tree is best. Despite the fact that chopping down trees might not sound very eco-friendly, the process of growing and disposing of real trees is actually much better for the environment than the production of plastic trees. And despite the fact that you can reuse a fake tree several times over, the PVC they are made from makes them impossible to recycle so for all the joys of Christmas, plastic trees are not exactly kind to the planet.

If fear of fire keeps you from having a real tree, be aware that less than one tenth of one percent of residential fires involve a real tree. Artificial trees are made from petroleum. When they catch fire they exude thick black smoke and toxic fumes. A freshly cut tree is actually difficult to set ablaze. As long as it is kept in water it will be fire retardant.

And what about the nuisance factor? Shedding needles, the need for constant watering and dumping the tree at the end of the season. That's all true. But, come on, it's only once a year and there is nothing like the wonderful smell and the look of a fresh tree. And no, it doesn't have to be a 10 footer. Small can be beautiful. So be kinder to the planet this Christmas, go get a real tree.

How To Care For A Real Tree
One word - water. A fresh tree, like a sponge, contains more weight in water than the tree weighs when dry. So remember to keep it well watered. Trees are very thirsty and will use up to a gallon of water a day! Your tree will drink 65% of its water in the first week that's its set up inside.

How Do You Dispose of a Real Tree?
If you're one of the more than 30 million people who put up a live tree this year, consider extending its usefulness once the season ends. Instead of tossing your perfectly shaped pine or fir into the garbage where it will only end up in a landfill, try one of these creative recycling avenues:

1. Throw it in the water. Christmas trees make great habitat for fish. Contact local conservation groups. In many areas, they'll pick up the tree and toss it into an appropriate pond or stream for you.

2. Keep it on your land. Trees can provide lodging for all kinds of critters besides fish. If you have a suitable area on your property to let a tree decompose, it can become a nursery to insects, fungi and possibly even amphibians and reptiles. Or consider keeping it in its stand and placing it out of doors as a bird sanctuary; it will provide our feathered friends much-needed protection from wind and cold. You can even enjoy a second round of decorating by adorning the tree with enticing bird food:

  • Suet smeared in the branches
  • Pine cones coated with peanut butter and bird seed, then hung from branches
  • Strings of popcorn, cranberries or raisins wrapped around the tree
  • Hanging fruit slices

3. Use it in the garden. Trim branches off and place them over perennial beds to reduce frost heaving caused by freezing and thawing. Then use the trunks to create sturdy, homemade trellises or tomato stakes.

4. Use a few dry branches as kindling to start your fires.

5. Keep it in your community. Many communities have tree recycling programs that turn everyone's old trees into valuable mulch. If you are unable to try any of the above ideas, contact your Public Works Department to find out if they will collect trees curbside or from a central drop-off location. Or visit Earth911.org to find a local tree recycler.

And while we're on the subject of being kind to Mother Earth during the holidays, remember to turn off the lights.

Decorating houses for Christmas can turn into a festive arms race. Christmas lights can take a serious toll on electricity usage. Leaving lights on all day and night is not good for the planet, or indeed anybody’s electricity bill.

Switch from incandescent to LED bulbs. LED bulbs can glow in every colour of the rainbow, but have a much lower energy consumption. Also, buy a timer for your Christmas lights and set them to come on for three or four hours each evening after dark. This way, you can still make the most of the lights without burning unnecessary energy.