Real Christmas Trees More Environmentally Friendly

Capt. Amy Cocanour, commander of Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan, helps present the ceremonial first Christmas tree to a representative family during the Christmas Ship ceremony at Navy Pier, Dec. 6, 2014. The Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw and crew are in Chicago to help re-enact the tradition of the original Chicago Christmas Ship from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and are partnering with the Chicago maritime community to bring more than 1,200 Christmas trees to needy families. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf)

With the holiday season here, Washingtonians have an important decision to make: Should they buy a real or artificial tree? While it may seem as though cutting down a tree is not a green decision, there are actually benefits for the environment and local communities. Darcy Batura, central Cascades community coordinator for The Nature Conservancy of Washington, says artificial trees typically are manufactured in China, take a lot of resources to transport here and are made from a material that is not biodegradable, meaning once it ends up in a landfill, it stays there for centuries.

“The reason for a real tree is that while it’s alive it’s storing carbon, it’s providing habitat and producing oxygen, and then after we enjoy it, it can be chipped and used as compost that then feeds the soil for years.”

Washington ranks fourth in the nation for Christmas-tree production, with about 400 farms across the state. Batura says most of those are run by families, so buying from these farms support small businesses. It’s an 18-million dollar industry.

There are other ways to get real trees and help the environment as well. Washingtonians can purchase a five-dollar permit from the U-S Forest Service to cut down their own. Batura says folks might feel guilty about cutting a tree in the forest …

“However, here in Washington state, there are 2.7 million acres of public forest land that is in desperate need of restoration thinning. So when you go out and select a tree that’s part of a clump where they’re just too dense, you’re actually doing the forest and the trees a favor but thinning that tree and taking it home.”

Batura adds that some may choose artificial trees because they’re affected by allergens from real trees. In that case, she advises people to keep it around for a long time. It takes 20 years to offset the environmental impact of manufacturing and shipping that tree. She says Washingtonians can be even greener by using L-E-D lights, which consume less power, and making their own ornaments.

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