It's a Micro World after all is a blog dedicated to discussing pretty much whatever I feel like. When I delve into scientific matters it will primarily be discussing microbiology (agricultural, bioenergy, and environmental focus). Otherwise, I'll probably ramble on about sports and life.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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So, now that Thanksgiving is over I've had to start decorating for Christmas. If I had my druthers, I'd decorate ... never ... or possibly on the 23rd or 24th, but the decision is not mine to make alone. So up into the attic I went, and down came all the wreaths, ornaments, stockings and holders, holiday DVDs and CDs, garland, and lights ... and the big artificial tree. This tree has seen much better days and so this is probably the last year it'll be used, but it's gotten me to thinking (yah, scary thought). What is going to happen to that tree when I'm done with it, and what sort of environmental impact is it going to have?
Before I go any further though, I have to say that one of my favorite parts of last evening was breaking open my favorite Christmas CD of all time "Favorite Carols of Christmas" and listening to it. I've just completed ripping and adding it to my iPod, so I won't get stuck listening to all the cruddy Christmas music out there on the radio.
At any rate, I've gone around looking for information on the environmental impacts of artificial Christmas trees and come across a few interesting blog entries on the matter, like this one (which takes away most of the thunder of this here blog entry). Looking into the issue we first need to decide which sort of "artificial tree" we're going to debate on, and there are several options. Honestly, I haven't seen many artificial trees made out of feathers or aluminum, so I think we can safely land our discussion on plastic (PVC based) trees.
Growing Christmas trees appears to be quite the racket, and is done in all 50 states (at least according to a University of Illinois extension page). As expected, this site takes a dim view of artificial trees, though they do mention that in 2002, 48% of households had artificial trees, as opposed to 21% and 32% of households have real or no trees respectively.
The average lifespan of a PVC Christmas tree is around 6 years, which means in the 72 months post purchase, if you're a typical American and put your tree up immediately after finishing your Thanksgiving turkey, you'll see this thing for a total of 6 months. Then you'll haul it off to the dump where it'll sit for eternity, since PVC isn't readily biodegradable ... and if it gets hauled off to the incinerator? Yikes! Combusting PVC leads to the formation of dioxins which caused the Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee of the US Green Building Council to study PVC and see if it truly was"... consistently among the worst materials for human health impacts."
And making the stuff? Fuhgedaboudit! Plasticizing vinyl requires phthalates (such as DEHP) which are huge environmental burdens and effect animal reproduction, possibly including humans (PDF, 13 pages).
So, when you put up your tree this year, consider the environmental impact you are having. While many of us consider buying an artificial tree a "green alternative" because it leaves the real trees alive, in actuality it isn't green at all. The true green option is to buy the replenishable resource ... a live tree.
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As a guy who worked on Christmas tree lots in college and grad school, I can tell you its pretty lucrative if you are a big time operation, but not so much if it was like the mom and pop style that I worked.
I was totally thrilled to find out that real trees appear to be at least as good, and probably a much more environmentally friendly option. Here at least (central pennsylvania), they are local. They sequester carbon for years (3-6) before you use them. And they make lovely mulch and biodegrade.
Full disclaimer- I would rather have no tree than a fake tree.
However, I was also pickled tink to find that there are *rent a tree* options where you get a live one that then gets planted. If thre were a local option for that, I'd be all into it.
I will say that my parents have had the same fake christmas tree for almost 25 years. Not saying it's looking all that great these days ;)
The tree that is currently up in my house is 15 years old (the last five spent in a shed). I put up a small pre-lit three foot tree last year, and the year prior nothing went up at all. I wouldn't mind having a tree like becca mentioned where it could be planted after the season. Otherwise, I may go with a live tree and compost it at the end of the season.
We used to tie cinder blocks to them and sink them in the pond after Christmas in order to make bream beds.
I've always had a real one - the smell of fresh-cut tree when you walk into the room is part of Christmas for me!
We got ours yesterday - local, of course, and smelling lovely. Assuming the cats haven't destroyed it by the time I get home tonight, we'll decorate it later, and with diligent watering and feeding it'll last through to the New Year. Our city will pick up trees from houses and apartment buildings for free (along with their garden clippings and food waste composting programmes), and chip and mulch them for use in city parks.
Definitely sounds like a good program Cath. I wish my city would do something similar.