Faux Fir?

December 3, 2008

We’re hosting Christmas festivities at the Living Small house this year (a first!), and, naturally, we want to set up that most iconic of holiday decorations: the Christmas tree.

But which is Smaller: alive or undead? Should we hand over the cash for a one-use Spruce, or should we invest in an evergreen (n)evergreen? Well, kids, after making my list and checking it twice (thanks to a sleighful of topical pieces, particularly these at TreeHugger, Grist, and the San Francisco Chronicle), I’ve come up with the naughty and nice for both options:


Naughty: The live tree, which was helping absorb CO2 while it was in the ground, stops scrubbing the air upon felling. It likely is coated with pesticides, which can eke out into your house. (Fresh pine scent laced with chemicals? Delish.) The tree is often trucked into the heart of a city or township (carbon emissions!) and trucked back to your living room (more carbon emissions!); alternatively, you and your tree-hunting friends are trucked to the tree farm, pick, chop, and bale your fave, and then truck it back to the living room. This living tree requires water both in the growing stages and at home. It lasts for two, three weeks, maybe, and then has to be pitched. And, if composting isn’t an option, whether on your own property or through a municipal waste program, you may have to send your tree straight to that cruel cement vault — the dump.

Nice: Support your local farmer! Buying a tree from a local farm not only lowers your conifer’s carbon footprint, it also keeps your dollars local and bolsters agriculture in your community. Organic tree farms don’t treat their trees to chemical cocktails, so buying an unsprayed tree is fine for your indoor air quality, assuming no one has allergies. On a touchy-feely level, a real tree, with its attendant scent and tactility, is sentimental for many, and can boost happiness in this increasingly harried season.


Naughty: Three letters: PVC. (Done shrieking yet?) Turns out that fake trees are made of polyvinyl chloride, the kryptonite of, well, the Earth. PVC releases dioxins into the environment during manufacture, and it off-gasses, too, meaning that your Xmas tree could be secretly degrading your health. Plus, barrels of petroleum go into making and shipping these trees, most of which come from overseas. Fake trees are scentless, of course, so many come with or recommend the purchase of piney aerosol sprays, which contain nasty compounds. You might as well line your nose with Pine-Sol. And remember: fake trees aren’t real, even though they pretend to be. For as many “convincingly real!” trees as there are on the market, there is an equal (if not greater) number of convincingly unconvincing counterfeits.

Nice: No cutting required! The fake tree eliminates the annual trip to the tree farm, which cuts down on emissions, and it cuts down on water usage at home — and it’s (almost) infinitely reusable, which is one of the prime tenets of the Green movement. Plus, it doesn’t aggravate the allergic.

Granted, there are other roads: a live, potted tree; a vintage kitsch tree made of, say, pink aluminum; a handcrafted tree made of felt or balsa wood or found objects. Of course, going tree-free is the greenest option. Given what I know now, I think I’ll concede the green for a season and go trad: we’ll likely pick up a tree from the tree farm outpost stationed seven blocks away (assuming the farm is local and sustainably run) and carry it home on foot. Famous last words, right?

Do you celebrate Christmas? How do you decorate? Tree or no?

Photo: My mother-in-law’s adorable tree, Christmas 2007.