27/11/06 - Forest Net - Island Christmas Trees: Safe, Natural, Renewable
It is not uncommon for Christmas tree growers and retailers to hear from people who are concerned about using real trees for the holiday celebrations. Often these people express a genuinely held belief that the tradition of using natural trees in some way depletes the forest and therefore, is harmful to the environment. In many cases they see artificial trees as a more environmentally friendly choice for consumers. Yet, the reality is quite different because study after study indicates that natural trees, grown in natural surroundings, are much more environmentally compatible than even the best plastic trees.
For instance, in the late 1990s the Institute for Air and Environment in Gothenburg, Sweden conducted a study comparing the growth and development of a natural 10 year-old fir with a typical artificial tree available at many retail outlets. The intent of the study was to determine environmental benefits and impacts each type of Christmas tree offered and to report their findings to the public.
The study found that most artificial trees were made of PVC plastic and metal, weighed an average of 10-15 kilograms, and carried a 10-year guarantee. These trees were usually made in southeastern Asia, which meant that they had to be transported at least 20,000 kilometres to stores in Stockholm. Not surprisingly, the study found that based on their composition and the distance from the final market, artificial trees consumed large amounts of fossil fuels during both manufacturing and transportation.
In terms of natural trees, the study found that the average marketable fir was 2 metres (6.5 feet) high and weighed about 10-12 kilograms. Many Swedish Christmas tree farms were located on lands such as on barren slopes or under power lines which could not be used to grow other farm or forest products, so existing forest was not being cleared to produce these trees. As the trees grew, they held soil in place and provided nesting space, forage and cover for several native birds, insects and mammals. The amount of fossil fuel required to grow and market these trees was minimal and as they grew, they produced 45 kilos of oxygen per hectare every day.
Pruning and shaping the tree produced employment for local people, as did the harvest and trucking. Local landowners received income for the trees which they reinvested in planting or tending new trees for future holiday seasons. Once the holidays were over, many communities recycled the old trees by mulching them to provide landscaping and gardening materials.
While the use of herbicides to reduce competition from grasses and unwanted woody vegetation has been a common practice, today many growers are turning to Integrated Pest Management systems to reduce losses. By mowing grasses and other competing vegetation and conducting regular inspections for insect and disease problems, many Christmas growers have found that they can keep their trees healthy and vigorous and reduce their cost of production. In spite of all of the factors that favour natural trees, people often referred to the plastic treeís 10-year guarantee as the primary reason why they perceived it as more environmentally friendly. They felt this meant that one artificial tree would replace 10 natural trees over the life of the guarantee. However, the study also found that few people used their artificial tree for the 10-year period due to factors such as breakage, damage, colour loss, and changing styles. This meant that the actual lifespan of the plastic tree was often less than five years. Then, because artificial trees are not biodegradable, it was dropped off a local landfill site where it can last for centuries.
Prince Edward Island Christmas tree growers produce some of the highest quality trees available anywhere and they are proud of their record of growing these trees with a minimum of disturbance to the natural environment. Often these trees are produced on old farm fields by planting young seedlings and tending the new trees for 8-10 years. Other growers use natural regeneration methods to reseed openings in the forest from adjacent wild trees.
Island growers tend to focus on balsam fir because it is the preferred species for most homes in eastern North America. However, many of Prince Edward Islandís growers will also produce small numbers of pines and spruce which are suited to the requirements of individual homeowners. U-Cut tree farms are also becoming very popular with Island families who want to add a brisk forest walk and the smell of fresh cut fir to their holiday experience. Consumers can also purchase fragrant fir and pine wreathes to decorate their homes and businesses during the holiday season.
For more information on Island Christmas trees, Christmas tree safety tips, and a list of local growers visit: Island Christmas Trees
The Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia offers a more detailed and often eye-opening comparison of natural and artificial Christmas trees including a review of several other environmental and social issues. Their comparison list can be found at: Comparison List