In the midst of all the Christmas magic the past 2 days, I looked at the tree in my mom and dad-in-law's house and realized I was being really humbug about the whole live tree vs. artificial tree. They have a live, potted, pine tree that they keep indoors for a couple of weeks and decorate. After Christmas they plant it in their backyard and, in a couple of years, they cut it down and haul it back inside. It still ends with terminating the tree's life, but it seems more sensible to me than buying a cut tree every single year.
I read in O Magazine (yes, my mom-in-law passes them on to me) that in 2006 Americans bought 30 million cut trees*. There is apparently a crisis of where these trees go after they have served their purpose, but it seems there are a lot of opportunities to mulch the trees. The article also said that a tree can take up to 30 years to decompose on its own.
I just called our public utility and asked them what they did with old Christmas trees. I was happy to learn that Waste Management picks them up and turns them into mulch.
O Magazine (and this issue was just full of tips) also talked about the live Christmas tree concept and got their information from the Iowa State University's Department of Horticulture.
Here's an alarming blog piece from Scientific Blogging about the pros and cons of both artificial and live trees. I did not know that a lot of artificial trees can shed lead dust and that some artificial trees come with warnings because of lead content. Also, artificial trees are made from nonrenewable petroleum -- something I did know but prefer not to think about.
Now, what does this mean for our family? Well, I'm not sure. I have to get some florist's tape and do some repair work on some of the branches of the artificial tree we have, but after only about 4 years of use it's kind of falling apart. I still don't believe in cutting down trees just to keep in your house for a short while once a year, but I'm wondering if maybe the g-rents have the right idea; buy live trees each year, plant them out and then after one gets big enough, cut it down and bring it back inside for the next season. It will take a few years for this to actually work, but it might be worth a try.
Here's a link to Agricultural Marketing Resource Center's online discussion of the Christmas tree industry.
Here's a link to an article in the NY Times that discusses the debate of real vs. artificial, with some information on the history of Christmas trees.
* The reference for this article is: O: The Oprah Magazine, December 2007, Volume 8, Number 12, page 20 of special section "Green for the Holidays," entitled, "Treecycling."
Picture from Balsam Hill Christmas Tree Company, via Associated Press, via NY Times article referenced above.