To decide whether a living, cut or artificial tree to celebrate evergreen hope at Christmas is not as easy as it once was. Considerations should be made as to how far a tree must travel, whether it is grown sustainably, how it will be recycled and most important, what caring and contributing green rituals will offer meaning to your family.
Tree lots now grow trees as a greener and renewable option to direct assault on native forests to “snag, drag and bag” a tree as once was done by millions of people. The trees live and grow, and although they provide a rather sterile ecosystem, growing on a tree farm, they do absorb CO2 as all plants, and they are fully renewable, planted each year.
Trees on tree farms also continue to create oxygen, cleansing and clearing the air, and for small, but important life forms, they provide some habitat and green space.
The alternative, which usually consists of a petroleum by product tree, is a good choice for those who do not want the “sap” on their hands of killing a tree. However, like all consumer products, artificial trees are only a good bet if one re-uses the same tree more than six or seven years in a row. That is, an artificial tree must truly become a fixture of the holidays, and can pay back dividends of less outings and tree transport, fewer fir or pine needles. For a creative family tradition, this offers a different kind of yearly ritual, often involving the re-opening the attic or basement. Another advantage to a "life-long" tree is saving energy, money and time in the long run.
However, it must be remembered that many artificial trees are manufactured overseas, and the industry allows for dangerous chemicals such as PVC, ethyhelene dichloride and dioxin. You may have to do some homework to find a tree manufactured of the safest materials. Eventually, all of these things end up in precious landfill space. Newer alternatives are available in artificial trees, but so far they are rather pricey. Carefully, choose an artificial tree only after deciding for how long you will want to keep it.
Where one lives is also something to consider. Here in Hawaii, trees from west coast tree farms must be shipped across open ocean at the cost of jet fuel, transport and other energy wasting considerations. For a live tree in such places, a Norfolk Island pine which can be grown Mauka (in the native highlands) is preferable.
Another alternative is to buy a second hand artificial tree, and this is perhaps the greenest option since you would be rescuing a landfill bound tree and recycling directly. Then, that tree can become a family fixture for a lifetime. Foil trees, and vintage metal or wood trees, and creatively inspired home-made trees are real treasures, hearkening back to mid twentieth century Americana.
An informed choice can be difficult with so many considerations. But know that the very best option is to decorate an already living tree in your yard or neighborhood. Living trees are also sold in pots, to later become silent sentinels of the home to grow with the family.
Also, give the gift of life by planning a family tradition to simply plant a tree (in a timely manner) after every Christmas to offset those chopped down.