Make wise decisions during the holiday season and avoid over-the-top waste as you celebrate with family and friends, provide feasts and gifts, and decorate your home. Decisions you make at Christmas affect the environment, and selecting and decorating trees is at the top of environmental choices made by most families.
The first question to ask is whether you want a real tree from a Christmas tree farm, an artificial tree, or a living tree. When I was young, my family always used a cut tree as the focal point of decorations, and we continue that tradition today. Your family will enjoy the family outing of choosing a tree from a tree lot or heading to a Christmas tree farm, selecting a tree and cutting it. With live trees like this, be aware of the possibility of pesticides and the fact that transporting cut trees to the Christmas tree lots and to your house requires fuel.
On the positive side, Christmas tree farms have good environmental impacts: The trees supply oxygen as they grow, the farmers replace the trees sold, and acres planted in trees make desirable neighbors. In many cities and counties, recycling trucks pick up trees, which then are turned into mulch for area parks. Bass Pro Co. has programs in some areas in which trees are collected to sink into lakes and reservoirs, improving fish habitats.
Another possibility is to plant a living tree. If you live where the ground freezes, dig a planting hole before the freeze, and fill it in with hay, leaves or other material that is easily removed come planting time the week after Christmas.
Study where you plan to plant your tree, as you’ll need to choose the right species, keeping in mind the height and width the tree will attain at full growth. Noble Fir, Grand Fir and White Pine are classic Christmas trees that live for a hundred years and reach 60 to 90 feet tall, with branches spreading as wide as 30 feet. For typical yards, dwarf Blue Spruce cultivars, with their perfect conical shapes and thick foliage, are excellent choices. Semi-dwarf Fat Albert reaches 15 feet, Blaukissen, or Blue Kiss, reaches 10 feet tall, and White Spruce, Picea glauca ‘Conica,’ is a dwarf that only reaches seven feet tall.
Living trees need cool temperatures, so keep them away from heaters or fireplaces and inside for only a week at most, with plenty of light. Be sure to keep the root ball moist. Before planting outdoors, place the tree on a porch or in a garage for a few days, to allow it to acclimate to the change in temperature.
Artificial trees are another option. A point in their favor is that they are reusable, yet they often are made of oil-derived PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and sometimes contain traces of lead. When artificial trees are no longer wanted, they end up in landfills where they can last for centuries.
Decorating a tree encourages environmental choices as well, with LED lights growing in popularity. LED lights use 80 percent to 90 percent less electricity than old-fashioned lights, come in a wide variety of handsome styles, and prices are competitive, with a string of 35 bulbs costing as low as $10. The National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., and the Rockefeller Center Tree in New York City are decorated with LED lights, and those displays are widely known for their beauty.
For packages under the tree, instead of using wrapping paper, consider buying gift bags that can be reused many times.
Enjoy your holidays, and keep the planet in mind as you celebrate.