By Oliver Berger –
It’ll be a random day at home, a bit chilly outside, and I’ll be semi caught-up on typical property-owner duties. The sun will break through the cloudy or snowy day and I’ll think, “Now is a good time to get my Christmas tree.”
I do this in a go-as-you-are fashion, bathrobe, shorts, whatever I am wearing, grabbing my saw before I head out the front door. I’ll walk across my driveway and into the ditch by the main road. On the crazy corner where I live there is a small patch of firs, destined for the next mower contract to mulch up for better visibility. A quick two minutes with the saw and one tree is down. It will now live its last days in my living room with random decorations found at the Share Shed or anything around the house with a hook on it. This tree will give us joy until mid-January, or perhaps longer, depending on its resiliency. I love this tradition.
I used to think fake Christmas trees were a good idea. If you consider all the trees cut down every year to be looked at for a few weeks and then thrown away it kind of makes sense to buy something that should last, right?
My eyes were opened once I began working more in depth in the waste world four years ago. I noticed there was always an abundance of fake Christmas trees at our local Share Shed. It doesn’t matter what time of year, there is perpetually a couple available.
One year, a Share Shed regular took them home to decorate his front driveway. With the trees baking in the hot sun, it only took him one summer to realize fake needles shed just a quickly as real ones. He brought them all back to the dump.
This year, I decided to bring home some of the Share Shed trees myself and pile them up to get an idea of how many get discarded. What you see in the picture behind me is approximately four to five months’ worth of unwanted plastic trees, just from one Share Shed in our little town. I would say on average the Share Shed in Williams Lake receives two to three fake Christmas trees a week.
Now what do I do with them?
Artificial Christmas trees are not recyclable or compostable. They are such an eclectic mix of materials: metals, plastics, light bulbs, wiring, paint, sometimes lead, and decorations. Worst of all a lot of them contain polyvinyl chloride, aka PVC. PVC is one of the most environmentally offensive forms of non-renewable petroleum-derived plastic, also not recyclable.
As time passes, PVC releases dioxins. These dioxins are seriously toxic. Once they are released into the air or water, they are stored in our fatty tissues. In humans and animals, they cause cancer, neurological damage, and other serious health issues.
From the pile of fake trees in my yard, I will separate what metal I can for recycling to Williams Lake Scrap Metal. The rest of these trees are destined for the landfill, to sit there for the next few generations. Real trees will decompose within three to four years and will be fuel back to Mother Earth or your backyard.
Sources online state that a single farmed tree can absorb more that one ton of C02 throughout its lifetime. I also learned that the Christmas tree farming industry in the US employs over 100,000 people. With numbers like that, they have created acres and acres of a carbon sink purifying air all over the lands. Unbelievably enough it is also stated that real Christmas trees have a recycling rate over 90%. Increasingly, many cities around the world will organize tree pickups so they are composted properly.
When considering what type of tree to go with during your eco-friendly holidays, think local. We are surrounded by thousands of trees. Hydro lines and right-of-ways sometimes contain the perfect size and shape of spruce or fir for your living room. These guys are going to get chopped up anyways. One of my friends grabs a Christmas tree from a small herd in the forest, usually picking out the one little fellow that nature would naturally thin out.
We do also have some local Christmas tree growers around and that’s supporting a local job. Not-for-profit service clubs offer local Christmas trees for sale and some even deliver to your home. Another alternative is to decorate a live indoor plant you already have.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Oliver has a 35-year degree in life, starting out in the Spokin Lake area, spending adolescence in Williams Lake, and then venturing throughout the world on a quest of always learning new things. His priorities include dedication to and education about waste management.