Thursday, December 3, 2009

Faux-Fir: Environmental Friend… or Foe?

by Mackenzie Miller

Ever since I’ve grown up and moved away from home, my family has foregone the annual tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree. Yes, its hard to get everyone in one place during December – I begrudgingly understood the logic behind the decision. But one thing I could never wrap my head around was the replacement of the fresh, green trees of Christmases past with a fake, pre-lit tree - that conveniently came in three easy to assemble pieces!

This is going to be my fourth Christmas with this plastic imposter, which means it’s the fourth year in a row I argued and complained to my mom while we set it up. (Unfolding branches to make them look more natural is the “new” tradition, I suppose).

I guess my mom was sick of my harassment. Because this year, my whining was met with a biting remark – one that made me question my support of fresh, sap-filled, REAL Christmas trees.

“Okay Miss Save-The-Universe,” my mom shot back. “Answer me this! How many trees do you think are wasted so people can keep them in their living rooms for three weeks?” She asked me, adding smugly, “and those are the ones that even get sold!”

I froze, and glared at the ugly, odor-less fake standing before me. I had never thought about the repercussions of my precious holiday tradition. Was my mom right? Was faux-fir really an environmentally responsible replacement?

I immediately researched the topic, to get to the truth, only to find mixed-results.

While some environmentalists would agree that real trees are the better choice, at least from a personal and public health standpoint, some might make a case for fake trees, because they are re-used every year and don’t generate the waste of their real counterparts. BUT, fake trees are made with PVC, one of the most environmentally offensive forms of non-renewable, petroleum-derived plastic.

Several known carcinogens are generated during the production of PVC, polluting neighborhoods located near factory sites, (85% of which are actually in China). That means shipping costs and wastes also have to be taken into account, since China is a long way from North America. In addition, labor standards there don’t adequately protect workers from the dangerous chemicals they are handling.

So does this mean my mom was wrong? Is Faux-Fir more environmentally damaging than real trees? Not exactly. Real trees have to be shipped around the country too. Cutting down trees is still extremely wasteful, even if Christmas Tree Farms are designed to grow and sell trees every year. Through my research, I found that the most eco-friendly way to enjoy a Christmas tree is to buy a live tree with its roots intact from a local grower, and then replant it in your yard after the holiday. However, there is a good chance the tree will not survive once it is returned to the cold outdoors and replanted.

One of my professors at USD gave me his take on the debate. He bought a small sapling with his daughter a few years back. They keep it outside during the year, and move it into the living room – pot and all! – during December. As the tree grows with his daughter, my professor and his family share the memories of this particular tree year after year. That seems like the most sentimental – and environmentally safe – way to celebrate, to me.

Maybe I will start a new tradition this year, and bring home a real little tree of my own – and I encourage all of you to do the same!

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