in Greener Homes on 6 December 2009
Choose real trees and cut waste this festive season.
Christmas trees may not be the most pressing household sustainability issue, but for many little (and not so little) people, festive decorations are a serious business. So what’s the best option when you’re choosing a tree?
On the plus side for artificial trees, they can be packed up and re-used. But their longevity is also a weakness, especially if they’re thrown out before their time is really up. The plastic cannot be recycled, and so, once discarded, they remain in landfill for thousands of years. Also, they are manufactured overseas, transported long distances and arrive decked in layers of packaging.
According to organic gardening expert Lyn Bagnall, plantation trees are a better option. “I love the smell of the pine – it’s part of the Christmas atmosphere,” she says.
There are a number of Christmas tree farms a short distance from Melbourne and a cut tree can be put to good use after the big day has passed. “The pine needles can be recycled in your garden and the wood can be mulched,” she says. If you can’t do it at home, ask your local council how to dispose of green waste. Alternatively, many tree farms will take back used trees.
It’s best to choose trees from plantations that don’t use chemicals, but even where they do, Ms Bagnall is pragmatic. “It’s no worse than buying commercially grown flowers,” she says.
Provided you don’t mind having a small tree, and lugging it indoors every year, growing your own tree in a pot might be the best option of all. “If you buy a potted tree, listen to what the nurseryman says about how to care for it,” Ms Bagnall says. “That way you’ll have it for a good many years. If you’re prepared to look after it, then it’s a lovely alternative.”
Ken Hickson, author of The ABC of Carbon, keeps a Christmas tree in a pot on his balcony. “We decorate it and bring it inside for festive season,” he says. As well, his family re-uses their decorations and they make sure they don’t leave the Christmas tree lights flashing around the clock.
Mr Hickson is adamant that it’s possible to be eco-minded at Christmas without being a scrooge or a killjoy. “With climate change, we need to be ready to adapt our behaviour, but we can still enjoy the luxuries of life,” he says. “We just need to be much more energy efficient in doing it.”
During the silly season, that means giving preference to organic and locally grown produce and being aware of food miles. It need not be more expensive, he argues, especially if you think carefully about how to avoid wastage.
That’s a message that goes for gifts, as well as for food. “By being sensible about the presents we give, we can eliminate a lot of unnecessary plastic packaging and boxes,” Mr Hickson says. Rather than clamouring for more material goods, consider eco-friendly gift ideas, such as donations to charities or planting trees. And then, on Boxing Day, when the party’s over, be sure to recycle the refuse.