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If you celebrate Christmas, you may be wondering what to do with your tree when the holidays are over, or maybe you’re wondering if you should buy an artificial tree or go vintage and trek out into the woods (or a nice tree farm) and cut one down with the fam.  What to do, what to do…..and what’s best for the environment?

The American Christmas Tree Association  sponsored a study to find out which kind of tree—artificial or real—is healthier for the environment (the study was conducted by the international sustainability firm PE Americas).  Have a guess who won?  The artificial tree.  There’s a big debate among environmentalists about this subject, but the study funded by ACTA asserts that, over a ten year period, owning an artificial tree leaves a smaller carbon footprint than buying fresh from a tree lot or trekking out to a farm and cutting your own tree down.  Actually, going to a farm, they say, is the worst option because of the fossil fuel consumption involved in the drive to and from.  They recommend finding a local tree lot, as close to home as possible, from which to buy your tree.

Some groups say that due to the toxic, cancer-causing agents used in producing artificial trees, as well as the possibility of lead dust that artificial trees can shed, they are clearly the bigger concern; but the study by ACTA claims to have taken all of this into account when calculating their carbon footprint results, and still they go with the faker (although you may want to consider the workers in China who produce the bulk of fake trees bought in the US and the less than stellar protections their government has in place to protect them from the toxins produced by these factories).  The ACTA study takes into account the pesticide use on the 8-year lifespan of farmed Christmas trees, the fossil fuels used to transport them and other factors.  The key to this equation though is time—keep your artificial tree for less than 10 years and the math doesn’t work out.  So, if you really want to save the Earth and reduce your own carbon footprint, AND you’re a Christmas tree person—go artificial, but hold onto your tree for as long as possible.

So, what if, even knowing this, you go au natural?  What’s the best way to dispose of your Christmas tree?  Call your local waste disposal company and ask.  Most waste disposal services have a program in place to collect discarded Christmas trees.  Don’t be afraid to give them a ring and specifically ask about the disposal program.  What do they do with the trees?  We did a little research and we found that there are some really interesting programs going on around the nation to dispose of trees in a way that actually does some good.  The one we found most interesting?  There are some programs that take discarded trees and use them to create fish habitats, almost like little fish nurseries.  The trees are bound together and sunk in lakes to create a natural refuge for fish to hide and grow.  Some lakes and ponds, especially those that are man-made, can be essentially flat on the bottom with no place for small and immature fish to hide from predators.  So what happens to them?  They get eaten.  And what happens to the fish population in the lake or pond?  It decreases.  This program has been very successful.  Fish populations have rebounded and the trees biodegrade naturally.  They can be replaced every few years and continue the program.  Win/win.

Another option is take your tree to a recycling station where it can be shredded and used as mulch.  Mulch reduces the amount of water that plants need in the summer months by helping the soil to retain moisture, it insulates plants in the winter, and it degrades to act as a natural fertilizer.  In New York City, you can bring your tree in to be recycled, and get a free bag of mulch.  Other places will give you a sapling when you bring them your Christmas tree—kill a tree, plant a tree.

There’s always the option of buying a tree with its root ball still attached as well, but more planning must go into this process.  Trees are dormant in the winter months, so if you’re going to buy a tree that you can then replant, you shouldn’t have it in the house for more than a week or it may “wake up” and begin to grow again.  This reduces its chances of survival once you take it back into the winter weather for replanting.  So, if you go this route, we applaud you, but plan ahead—know where it will be planted, wait to buy it until at least a week before Christmas and plant it in the ground as soon as possible.

Whatever decision you make about your tree this holiday season, we wish you a merry one.  Come see us!  Take a break from the mad rush of festivities and sit down for a healthy, delicious lunch with us.  Say hello!  Take a breath.  Enjoy your families.  Then, send us some pictures of you and your loved ones in your best holiday sweaters and we might just be feeding you lunch for FREE in the New Year.  Check out our Facebook  page for the details!