This or That?
Go with…This. Real trees. Why pollute your Christmas with toxic plastics and hazardous heavy metals? The durability and convenience of fake Christmas trees may make them more attractive than the alternative of buying a new tree every year, but a life-cycle analysis conducted in Canada found that you'd need to use your fake tree for 20 years for it to be considered more environmentally friendly than your yearly evergreen.
While it is true that real trees can pollute waterways with pesticides, the amount of pesticides used on tree farms has fallen substantially, according to surveys conducted by the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension. The amount used varies by tree species and the climate in which it's grown, but the researchers at NCSU's Cooperative Extension estimate that trees grown in North Carolina need only a quarter of an ounce of pesticide per tree over the course of the tree’s lifetime. They note that farmers in North Carolina, the country's second-largest Christmas tree producer, rely more on pesticide-free integrated pest-management techniques to reduce unwanted insects and weeds, for both health and environmental reasons. Find a tree farm that uses organic methods, of course, and the use of chemical pesticides is not an issue.
Plus, let's face it: You can't beat the smell of a fresh Christmas tree.
If you still prefer a more reusable alternative to a big fresh-cut tree, here are a few PVC- and lead-free alternatives:
• Buy a potted tree. Some farms sell live trees that you can move outside after Christmas is over. Tend to it all year, and you'll be able to use it again the following year.
• Go to Ikea. The Swedish retailer has a couple fun and kitschy alternatives to standard trees, one of the best being their Margareta fabric, $6.99 per yard. With a 59-inch repeat, the spruce painted on the fabric is almost as large as a regular tree, and you can pin lights or ornaments to it, and roll it up to reuse next year. Another alternative is their Julmys three-foot-tall cardboard Christmas tree that comes with its own ornaments, for just $14.99.
• Decorate with scraps. If you want to get creative, ask your local tree salesman for tree cuttings or branches that have been removed from other trees. You can arrange them however you like, on a mantel or in a vase, and attach lights or ornaments if you like. Though the branches aren't quite reusable, they'll add some festive flavor to your house without the tree-felling guilt.