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Find a Truly Green Christmas Tree

Whoa, Tannenbaum! Some Christmas trees contain lead and pesticides

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green christmas tree

Find a truly green Christmas tree this season.

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I’m going to buy a new, artificial Christmas tree this year, because that’s a greener option than cutting down a living tree -- right?

Not so fast. Chances are that artificial Christmas tree was shipped in from China, giving it a big fat carbon footprint. Additionally, it’s probably made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic derived from petroleum that emits some nasty gases like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), just like a new shower curtain. They’ve also been found to contain lead, which is why many come with a warning to not ingest any part of the tree, ever, in any form. In short, artificial trees can be very nasty products to bring into your house, especially if you have kids.

But cutting down a beautiful, living Christmas tree doesn’t seem very green, either.

Remember that an evergreen tree is a renewable resource, and while it’s been growing, it’s been sheltering birds and other wildlife as well as reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gases. And after one is cut down, another is planted in its place. And chances are your tree was grown locally -- ask if you’re not sure. Most, however, are grown by commercial nurseries, so you’ll have all the problems associated with big agriculture: a lack of biodiversity with a monoculture of nothing but evergreens, and a variety of chemical additives like pesticides and chemical colorants.

Pesticides? Yuck! Aren’t there any options besides a Christmas tree drenched in bug spray?

Just like other farmers, tree growers are going organic, too. You can probably find a local organic grower who uses no pesticides or other chemicals on their trees. Look for your local listings on Local Harvest.

OK, but I don’t want to give up on a Christmas tree altogether!

You don’t have to. Perhaps the greenest option is to buy a small potted evergreen that you bring inside for a week or so during the holiday season, then move outdoors until next year. When it gets too big, plant it in the yard -- if you don’t have room, donate it to a local school, a church, or a friend with a yard. Alternately, you could decorate a tree that’s already planted outdoors and forget about bringing a big tree indoors.

That great smell of greenery, however, is what makes the house seem all Christmas-y.

Agreed -- so deck your halls with greenery that’s been pruned from a living tree outdoors. Folks have gotten creative with branches of evergreens, a few ornaments and some other decorations to make a Christmas bouquet, wreath or other arrangement.

Now that I’ve got my greener Christmas tree, is there an eco-friendly way to decorate it?

If you don’t yet have LED lights, remember that they use up to 90 percent less energy than regular incandescent lights -- and because they run cooler, they might be safer, too. Instead of buying new tinsel and ornaments (again, shipped across the ocean from China), try decorating your tree -- and your whole house -- with homemade ornaments, Christmas cards, pine cones, gingerbread cookies, or even paper chains made from old magazines. Get your friends and family involved in the creative fun, and have a happy green holiday.

What's the best way to get rid of my Christmas tree?

It's a lot easier to reuse or recycle your Christmas tree these days. There are several smart, simple options, and many communities have a "treecycling" program that turn living trees into mulch, compost or other useful by-products. To find a recycling program near you, check Earth911.

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