Some people think it is wasteful and harmful to the environment when Americans cut down and use 30 million live trees to celebrate Christmas.

There concern for tree loss is understandable, but it is important to understand that there are over 350 million Christmas trees growing on farms across the United States as sustainable crops like corn, pumpkins or tomatoes.

Christmas tree farm - young trees

The many environmental benefits of fresh Christmas trees

In 2012 alone, over 46 million Christmas tree seedlings were planted on farms where they will be grown, sheared, and protected from insects and diseases for six to ten years before they are ready for sale.

While those trees are growing, they consume large amounts of carbon dioxide (greenhouse gases that are warming our planet), produce oxygen, prevent soil erosion, capture and reduce storm water runoff that can cause stream flooding, and provide habitat and winter cover for many wildlife species.

Better yet, they keep local working farms alive and profitable. There are more than 12,000 Christmas tree farms in the United States, and in 2009 Pennsylvania tree farmers had over $19.3 million dollars in sales, accounting for 7.8 % of the national market. Nationally, over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time by the Christmas tree industry.

Benefits of recycling fresh Christmas trees

When you are ready to take the tree down after the holidays, do not be in hurry to send it to a landfill. Evergreen boughs make a great mulch for perennial flowering plants that do not tolerate other mulches that can hold excessive moisture around their crowns. They can also be placed on the ground near bird feeders to create a little shelter for ground-feeding birds. Many communities have a special pick up or designate a drop off site for Christmas trees. They may hold a big community bonfire or grind the trees into mulch that can be used for the garden in spring.

Tree recycling after the holidays has become part of community traditions in several national forests. The USDA notes that recycled trees can be used to establish fish habitats, create mulch for future plantings, and build soil erosion barriers. Using the trees for these purposes also keeps them from filling up local landfills.

Land managers of several national forests in the area have found that the old Christmas trees can be used to make a cozy home for schools of fish. Fish habitats create ideal spawning grounds to ensure successful reproduction, a place of refuge and shade for the young, and shelter from predators. Also, fish habitats provide a food source – a breeding ground for algae and plankton to attract bait fish and lure larger fish to favorite fishing spots.

Contact your nearest national forest or grassland to see if they, too, recycle Christmas trees. Other great resources for recycling trees are the National Christmas Tree Association and the Arbor Day Foundation.

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You can’t do much with artificial trees

The first artificial tree was made largely of aluminum, and was initially manufactured in the United States in 1958.

Today, most artificial trees are made from PVC plastic, with 85% of them being manufactured in China and shipped thousands of miles across the world to a retail store in the United States. Those artificial trees do not provide oxygen, soils stabilization, or wildlife habitat — although we might be able to recycle the plastic at some point. In 2011, Americans purchased 9.5 million artificial trees, helping China’s economy.

So this holiday — especially as we purchase many of our electronics, toys, and decorations that were manufactured in other countries — consider taking the family on an outdoor adventure to buy an American-grown fresh-cut tree from a local farm. It really does help our economy… and our environment.

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About The Author

The Myria Editors

Myria, originally launched in 1998, strives to deliver more conversation, and less gossip. More intelligence, less eye-rolling. More acceptance, less judgment. And throughout the site: more needle, less haystack. Through life's ups, downs, and everything in between, we want to encourage you, support you, and help guide you. The team behind Myria understands that status updates and selfies never tell the whole story, and that we all have stuff to deal with, and that's nothing you need to hide here. Beyond "been there, done that" - every day, we're still there and still doing it. That's how we know: You've got this.

About the author: By Vincent Cotrone, Urban Forester, Penn State University, with additional information provided by the USDA and Sandy Feather Extension Educator at Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences

Photo credit(s): Photo thanks to Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oregon/USDA

Original publication date: December 8, 2012

Filed under: Christmas, Live green & eco-friendly

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