by David Goldstein
Irene Garcia, of Simi Valley, loves Christmas traditions but needed an environmentally conscious solution to her annual tree dilemma. Should she buy a cut tree or an artificial one?
Artificial trees are reusable, but they are made of petroleum, and since they are usually made overseas, shipping them here also contributes to their carbon footprint. Real trees are good for sequestering carbon and they are usually grown like a crop on land considered unsuitable for other uses but they also have a carbon footprint, due to the energy required to plant, tend, harvest and transport them.
Eventually, Garcia came up with an alternative providing the benefits of both reusable and cut trees. She bought a baby pine tree in a pot. It grew, and she transplanted it into a larger pot. Eventually, it became too large, and she thought she had created a disposal problem.
Cutting a tree for firewood is always an option, but burning releases back into the air the carbon captured by a tree’s growth. Plus, Garcia had recently read The Hidden Life of Trees and, she told me by email, she “just couldn’t harm” a tree. Instead, her September email to me asked, “Do you know of a place that will welcome this soon-to-be orphan?”
I wrote back to her, “Somewhere, someone wants your pine. You can list it free in Craigslist, or on LetGo, or OfferUp or Freecycle. You could probably sell it as a Christmas tree in December.”
Recently, Garcia followed up with me, giving me permission to use her story for this column and happily reporting her “free stuff” listing on Craigslist resulted in “four requests within a few hours.” She chose one lucky person, and now her tree has a new home.
For those considering environmental factors when deciding between a cut tree and an artificial one, internet research may provide different answers depending on which websites, from which sources, are consulted. The National Christmas Tree Association touts the benefits of cut trees. Unsurprisingly, its website realchristmastree.org reveals that its board of directors is “comprised of Christmas tree growers and retailers.”
The American Christmas Tree Association, in contrast, released a report last year concluding it takes only five Christmas reuses to pass an environmental “break even” point, where manufactured trees become environmentally preferable to purchasing a real tree each year. Although the association’s report was conducted by an independent consulting agency focusing on sustainability, and it was “reviewed” by academics from prestigious institutions — including the Program Director of Sustainability at Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education — it was commissioned by the association, so the association’s affiliations may be relevant.
Its website says the American Christmas Tree Association “is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help families choose the best Christmas tree for them, and to support the many well-loved Christmas traditions around Christmas trees year-round.”
An email to the association’s media contact address, asking specifically whether the ACTA is “funded more by those who are affiliated with the ‘artificial’ tree industry or the ‘natural’ tree industry,” yielded an honest and prompt response. Executive Director Jami Warner wrote, “ACTA’s members are retailers and manufacturers of Christmas trees.”
Local tree farms, such as the Hagle Tree Farm at 3442 Somis Road, offer a local alternative, bypassing the carbon impacts of bringing a tree from Oregon, where most local trees originate. For $50, customers are invited to cut and bring home any tree grown on the farm.
The Mupu Tree Farm, with a retail site on Ojai Road near Santa Paula, provides another alternative. Despite the name of the business, the owners, Michael and Karen Karayan, do not grow any trees either at the retail site or elsewhere. They own a farm, but it is dedicated to growing food. Instead, their trees come from a certified Socially and Environmentally Responsible Farm (SERF) in Oregon. SERF audits, conducted in Oregon by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and in Washington by the Washington Department of Agriculture, certify best practices in five areas: biodiversity, soil and water resources, integrated pest management, health and safety and consumer and community relations. Karen Karayan told me, “Customers don’t come in looking for SERF certification, but when they find out about it, they are glad we have it.”
David Goldstein is an environmental resource analyst with the county of Ventura’s Public Works Agency.
RESOURCES (WEB ONLY)
American Christmas Tree Association’s Life Cycle Analysis, 8nht63gnxqz2c2hp22a6qjv6-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/ACTA_2018_LCA_Study.pdf